As if Earl Thomas needed to explain whom he was flipping off in his final Seahawks act, he just did.
Yes, Seattle’s now-departed All-Pro safety says he was directing his anger after he broke his leg during the game at Arizona Sept. 30 at one man: his now-former coach.
“A lot of frustration that day,” Thomas told NBC Sports’ Peter King for the weekly “Football Morning in America” column published online Monday. “I was in a battle with the team, and I chose to play, and I was betting on myself. So when it happened, it just added to my frustration.
“I did what I did, and I saw Pete Carroll, and I just was like, ‘You won. You won.’
“Just a very disappointing day.”
Thomas was speaking last week from Baltimore, where he signed a $55-million, four-year contract with the Ravens after nine seasons with the Seahawks. His new deal, which he’d been demanding from Carroll and Seahawks general manager John Schneider for more than a year, includes $35 million guaranteed in the first two years. It guarantees Thomas $22 million this year.
Thomas acknowledging his middle finger was for Carroll isn’t a shock.
Last September, after he re-joined the team following a months-long holdout so he wouldn’t lose regular-season game checks, he said it had become “personal” between him and the Seahawks.
The middle finger was Thomas boiling over in frustration that he had just sustained the career-altering injury he feared before he got his third, megabucks contract. He went on injured reserve days later, ending his season, his contract and his time with Seattle.
In his postgame press conference in Arizona after Thomas flipped him off, Carroll was asked about Thomas directing his finger at the Seahawks’ sideline from across the field and the back of the motorized cart that took him out of the stadium that day.
“It’s a big stadium,” Carroll said, tongue firmly in cheek. “I don’t know where it was aimed at.”
Carroll then and since has had nothing but praise for Thomas, his first draft choice when the coach arrived in Seattle in 2010. Carroll has praised Thomas for becoming one of the best safeties of his era while playing for him, for winning a Super Bowl and for being a leading man in the Seahawks’ transformational “Legion of Boom” defensive secondary that went to five consecutive playoffs and two Super Bowls from 2012 through ‘16.
“I love Earl. I’ve always loved him,” Carroll said the day Thomas’ 2018 season and Seahawks career ended with the broken leg. “I’ve loved everything that he’s ever done for us. Everything he’s stood for. How he’s been a leader. Just a guy out in front, always. His unbelievable heart and competitiveness and drive to be great. To be GREAT. And I’ve admired it the whole time.
“It wasn’t always smooth. But it’s always been good. And I’m proud of the relationship I have with him.
“My heart breaks for him.”
And what did the coach say to Thomas when he came out on that field in Arizona as doctors attended to him, or after the game?
“I hugged on him and loved on him,” Carroll said.
But the Seahawks didn’t love Thomas demanding top-of-the-market money while about to turn age 30. Nor the disruption his holdout caused last summer, including after he came back until days before the season’s opening game. Carroll didn’t love Thomas subsequently skipping practices upon his return still without a new contract, or the trade he also demanded.
So the team let one of the best players in its history walk away in free agency last week instead of making even a competing, if any, offer.
Thomas finally got his, in the first days of NFL free agency last week. Most believed he was about to sign with Kansas City for one year and a guaranteed $12 million,to replace Eric Berry. The Chiefs’ star safety had the top contract Thomas had been seeking to eclipse all last year as the league’s highest-paid safety.
Kansas City released Berry last week to cut costs.
“I thought I was signing for one year somewhere else,” Thomas told King, “and my agent (David Mulugheta) said, ‘I think you’re going to like this.’”
“The Ravens were never in the picture. I was shocked. I was blessed.”
Baltimore completed the deal for Thomas in two hours and 10 minutes, from first idea to agreement, King reported.
Months earlier, Thomas completed his Seahawks time with an even swifter middle finger.