On June 10, Seattle Seahawks’ safety Earl Thomas announced via Twitter that he would not be attending Seattle’s upcoming minicamp or any other team activities until his contract situation is resolved. Unhappy with his current deal, Thomas has declared his intent to hold out until he receives an extension.
The question now becomes one of ‘what do the Seahawks do?’ Does General Manager John Schneider pony up and pay Earl? Does Seattle trade him, cut him, or just choose to ride this out and see if Thomas eventually caves in? It’s a challenging question, and one the Seahawks are not completely unprepared to answer.
Thomas is on the last year of the four-year, $40 million extension he signed with the Seahawks back in 2014. He’ll earn a base salary of just $8.5 million this year ($10.4 mill on the salary cap), well below the leader of the safety market, Eric Berry, who makes $13 million per season. Another comp is Harrison Smith, a 2017 All-Pro free safety who averages $10.2 million a year. Earl will likely want something in the $11-12 million range a season.
Seattle is currently sitting at $10.6 million in available salary cap space, so they do have the room to re-work Thomas’ deal. Unfortunately, they will have to do so while figuring out a way to pay Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett as well. These two budding stars are also on the final year of their contracts. Clark, the team’s top pass-rusher, could command well over $10 million a year on his own. Lockett, with a strong 2017, could see a Paul Richardson-type deal, valued around $8 million per season.
If Seattle doesn’t pay Thomas, it would likely be out of concern regarding his ability to contribute in the future. Schneider has been recently burned when signing players to a third contract (see Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett). The Seahawks’ GM might be hesitant to give a guaranteed, high-value contract to a player who just turned 29. Especially one who has dealt with multiple lingering injuries over the past two seasons.
There is little doubt that Thomas’ play has earned him the right to be paid, but the concern in Seattle is how long Earl can continue to play at that level. With several players on the roster set to hit the free-agent market, the Seahawks have to determine where their priorities will lie for 2017 and beyond.
The Seahawks publicly shopped Thomas throughout the offseason and he was the subject of multiple trade rumors heading into April’s draft. No deal was ultimately made, but a popular rumor was a move to Dallas. The Cowboys, Earl’s hometown team, seemed a likely destination after Thomas made it very clear last year that he wanted to return home and play for them. Who knows what kind of bridges Thomas burned in Seattle when he walked into Dallas’ locker room last December and told Cowboys’ Head Coach Jason Garrett to “come find him”?
One of the issues complicating a trade is what kind of return value Seattle could get. During the 2017 NFL Draft, the Seahawks were reportedly wanting at least a second round pick for Thomas. Unfortunately, no team will want to give up that kind of compensation for a player who could turn around and hit free agency the next year. Teams would need assurance that a long-term deal with Thomas’ camp could be reached before any trade would occur.
The safety position has also experienced a sudden and heavy devaluing. Multiple big-named free agents are still on the market, so teams still have plenty of other options at the position. Barring a rash of injuries, clubs just aren’t that interested in weighing themselves down with a high-priced safety. If a trade occurs now, it will likely be for no better return than a 4th round pick, or some combination of late-round picks.
If no value can be found on the trade market and a deal can’t be reached, Seattle may just very well cut the veteran, Thomas. This could actually happen, as releasing the safety would not be cost-prohibitive. According to overthecap.com, the Seahawks will carry only $1.9 million in dead money on the salary cap if they cut Earl. The move would save Seattle $8.5 million in cap space for 2018. Though a release is possible, this is the unlikeliest of possibilities for Thomas. Seattle would see no return value other than cap space and Earl would be free to go where he pleases, including divisional rival San Francisco. A release now would result in no compensatory picks awarded to the ‘Hawks in next years’ draft.
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Ride it out:
Speaking to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Seahawks’ Head Coach addressed Thomas’ absence from this mini-camp. “I’m just disappointed that he’s not here and all that. But we’ll let it play itself out,” Carroll said. This statement came just a couple of short weeks after Carroll told the media that he fully expected Earl’s presence for the mandatory practices.
If Seattle does indeed wait it out, it could be a pricey ordeal for Thomas. According to the NFL Network, players under contract who skip mandatory minicamp can be fined $14,070 for the first day missed, $28,150 for the second day, and $42,215 for the third day. That’s a total of $84,435 in fines for the week. Additional fines are possible if Thomas misses any training camp sessions in August too.
This is the likeliest scenario to occur, as Seattle holds all the cards at this point. Thomas is an aging veteran who doesn’t really need the practice time minicamp affords. In fact, his body may benefit from the additional rest. The Seahawks can recoup some money if they choose to fine him. In addition, Thomas’ absence allows his backups to get some much-needed additional reps. Seattle may very well stay patient and hope the fines amount to a distasteful level to Thomas. Thus ensuring his return for 2018 and his guaranteed millions.
If the Seahawks feel they can afford to wait, this option is far better for the team than any likely trade or straight out release. Really, why would they get rid of Earl for a second-round pick when they should get a third-round compensatory pick in 2020 if he leaves via free agency in 2019. Holding him now will get them one more year of Thomas leading the defense along with the similar, albeit delayed, compensation they would get in a trade.
Whatever Seattle ultimately decides to do with Thomas, they have multiple options waiting in the wings. Bradley McDougald, who jumped in for Earl when he was out with injuries in 2016, is still on the roster. 2017 4th-round draft pick Tedric Thompson has been seen filling Thomas’ spot through the first two days of this week’s minicamp. Veteran free-agents (and cheaper options) Tre Boston, Eric Reid and Kenny Vaccaro are still unsigned.
Hopefully, this doesn’t mark the end of Thomas’ career in Seattle, but if it does, Seahawk nation will forever have a place in their hearts for number 29. In a recent online poll done by 710 ESPN, the majority of voters wanted Seattle to re-sign Earl.
Now, what do you think the Seahawks should do?
David Rogers covers the Seahawks for Full Press Coverage. Follow him on Twitter.