There are a number of veteran NFL players who are unhappy with their current contracts and have decided a little less than $85,000 measured against showing up for three days of mandatory minicamp was a cost-benefit analysis worth exploring, a group which included Atlanta All-Pro receiver Julio Jones, LA Rams interior monster Aaron Donald, Oakland edge rusher Khalil Mack, and future Hall of Fame safety Earl Thomas out in Seattle.
Thomas’ absence might be the most ominous for a number of reasons that are both obvious (age, salary expectations) and not so obvious, the reality that the Seahawks are in a rebuilding mode and having a couple of years of top-tier production for an average to below-average team might not be as valuable as building a sustainable long-term plan to put together another substantial run at the top of the NFC.
From a practical standpoint, Thomas is a lame duck entering the final year of a big-money extension he signed in 2014, which made him the highest-paid safety in the game at that particular time. The nature of NFL contracts, however, are about timing and opportunity so any player serves as the benchmark for the next standout option at any position.
Since Thomas signed his deal others have passed him on the salary scale with Kansas City’s Eric Berry serving as the current benchmark
Set to turn 30 next May, Thomas’ next contract, wherever it may be, is likely the last big-money deal he will be able to sign in the NFL so using all the leverage he has in a profession where players never have all that much should be understandable.
It was obvious Thomas would miss Seattle’s voluntary work and he decided to trade the $84,435 fine for skipping the mandatory work. However, the All-Pro also indicated that he would like to finish his stellar career where it started, in the Pacific Northwest, a needed nod to the public-relations aspect of any contract negotiation especially when you were caught on film imploring Dallas coach Jason Garrett to go get you if the opportunity presents itself.
Thomas, an Orange, Texas, native was a Cowboys fan dating back to his youth and if he had his druthers and the Seahawks become untenable he would certainly like to continue his career in the Lone Star State.
“I want everyone, especially the 12s (the 12th man in Seattle) to know I want to remain a Seahawks for the rest of my career,” Thomas wrote on social media when announcing his decision to stay away from minicamp. “But I also believe that based on my production over the last 8 years that I’ve earned the right to be taken care of as soon as possible.”
— Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) June 10, 2018
Pete Carroll, meanwhile, did his best to deflect from Thomas’ decision earlier this week.
“We kind of had heard that he was making that choice,” the coach said. “I wish he was here, that would be nice, but we’re focusing on the guys who are here, and we’ll see how that goes.”
The guys that were at the Seahawks’ minicamp were hardly the Legion of Boom. Instead of Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor it was Tedric Thompson, Bradley McDougald, Shaquill Griffin and Byron Maxwell.
Thomas is unquestionably one of the franchise’s all-time greats, a five-time All-Pro destined for Canton who happens to be the best player on the best defense of a generation, which fueled the only Super Bowl win in franchise history and ended up a yard away from going back-to-back.
Conversely, the worst thing any personnel chief can do is fall into the sentimentality trap and pay for production in the rearview mirror versus the potential moving forward. The cliche in every NFL personnel department is that it’s better to give up on a player a year too early than a year to late.
There are exceptions to every rule, however. The coach of the Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles described one this week at his own minicamp when talking about 36-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, a player likely joining Thomas in Canton one day but is even farther along the road and coming off an ACL tear.
Meanwhile, Peters’ replacement — the cost-effective Halapoulivaati Vaitai — literally proved he was good enough to win with by playing the second half of the 2017 season through the Super Bowl at left tackle for the champs. Yet Pederson deferred to his most respected player.
“He’s one of those players that he can go out on his time,” Pederson explained.
Thomas is every bit the same type of player but it’s for a team in transition and no longer looking like a powerhouse on the NFC side of the bracket. In fact, the NFC West has been turned upside down with the Rams and San Francisco 49ers looking like the potential contenders and the Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals figuring to bring up the rear.
“Earl couldn’t be a more unique player than he is,” Carroll admitted. “You know he’s been a great player for us, great contributor and always, always answered the bell. The only time he’s ever missed was that time he broke his leg, but other than that he has been a great player for us and we only expect that from him.”
Sherman, who is recovering from an Achilles’ injury, is now with the 49ers after being released in March while star defensive lineman Michael Bennett was traded to the Eagles. Also gone are veteran defensive end Cliff Avril, who was released due to a career-threatening neck injury and Thomas’ long-time running mate on the back end, Chancellor, could be facing the same fate.
The NFL is not the NBA, however, and there is no need to tear everything down before a rebuild. There are worst-to-first stories every year in this league, including the Eagles last season. So, serving two masters is not only possible in this league, it’s done on a consistent basis.
GM John Schneider could completely rebuild the defense around Thomas and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner but the benchmark is set for Thomas, Berry’s six-year, $78 million contract with $40M of that guaranteed.
Chancellor can tell Thomas first hand that holdouts don’t generally work all that well in Seattle, although ultimately Kam did get his big deal, albeit later than he would have liked.
Training camp is where the rubber meets the road in that regard because the potential fines for holding out then are far more significant in the form of $40K per day. Until then, however, never fault a player for using whatever leverage he has in an industry that provides an opportunity to make a lot of money over a short time frame.
Three days in June are about sending a message. The dog days of July and August are about finding out if the message was delivered or it’s marked return to sender.
“Heck yeah,” Carroll said when asked if he still wanted Thomas. “Yeah, he’s under contract, sure.”
And Carroll expects no drama whether Thomas’ holdout works or not.
“Earl doesn’t know any other way, he gives you everything he’s got when he’s with you,” the coach explained.