It all started last December when after the Seattle Seahawks had defeated the Dallas Cowboys in what was essentially a playoff game in the NFC postseason race, safety Earl Thomas stunningly ran towards the home locker room and emplored Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to “come get me”.
The All-Pro’s public display of interest in playing for a different organization sent shock waves across the NFL landscape, but eight months later it is clear Thomas knew something then that we all didn’t. His time with the Seahawks is all but over, and there is no way the two are headed for anything but a messy divorce.
Entering 2018 Thomas has one year left on the four year/$40 million extension he signed with Seattle in April 2014, a contract that at the time was the richest for a safety in NFL history. The deal included $25 million in guarantees, and that is why he and the Seahawks are currently at a crossroads.
Thomas is currently 29-years-old, well within the prime of his career and the best player in the game at a premium position. He believes he can play for several more years but is hesitant to do so on his current contract, knowing if he suffers a catastrophic injury in 2018 he has no protection whatsoever. He’s spent the past few months practically begging Seattle to either sign him to a long-term extension that includes more guaranteed money or trade him somewhere that will. He’s sat out OTA’s, all of training camp, and now two weeks of the preseason. The Seahawks are already prepared to fine him over $1 million for these absences, but if Thomas’ own piece from the Players Tribune is any indication, heels are dug in on this and nothing will change that.
So how can this ultimately end?
Well to me something that hasn’t gotten enough attention in all of this is that Thomas WILL ultimately report. It’s not a matter of if but when, and that is something to keep in mind.
Via the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, Thomas must report prior to week 10 (November 13) to be credited an accrued season and not have his contract toll, meaning he’d still be in the same boat next year, owing Seattle a year of service. We all know he wants out of Seattle, and if it takes playing a half season to do so he’ll do it.
From the Seahawks perspective, I can’t really see how that is a desirable outcome. Seattle has entered what looks like a little bit of rebuild, watching defensive stalwarts like Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman all depart. Aside from linebackers Bobby Wagner, and K.J. Wright, Thomas is the last key defender remaining from the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win, and as the team prepares to go with younger players in an effort to regain their status as an elite defense, why would they still want a veteran safety who doesn’t want to be there?
You’d better believe if this thing actually drags out into November and a disgruntled Thomas walks through the door, he’s going to be playing to not get hurt, not at the effort he’s given his entire career.
Seattle discussed a Thomas swap with Dallas, clearly his preferred destination, prior to and during the NFL draft but couldn’t agree on compensation. It had been unofficially reported the Seahawks wanted a second round pick but the Cowboys wouldn’t budge off of a third, and talks failed to gain much traction.
As Thomas’ holdout gets uglier by the day, you’d have to imagine Seattle will attempt to rekindle trade discussions, and Dallas remains the most logical destination.
When the Cowboys cut Dez Bryant last spring they opened up basically the exact amount of cap room needed to accommodate Thomas on the roster, and given his openness about his desire to play with a star on his helmet, it’s logical to assume Dallas could sign the safety to a contract extension.
The Cowboys blew a lot of smoke all spring and summer that they are comfortable starting Jeff Heath and young Xavier Woods at safety this season and would not overpay for Thomas, but most believe that is all that was. Smoke. Heath is a special teams ace who has shown a knack for making spontaneous plays on defense but is also very vulnerable in pass coverage, and while Woods is a talented second-year player who most believes has a lot of upsides, he has a long way to go to even become half of what Thomas is.
Additionally, Woods left Saturday’s preseason game against Cincinnati with a hamstring injury and will likely not be ready for Dallas’ season opener in Carolina on September 9th. Couple that with the fact that Cowboys’ depth safeties Jameill Showers and Marqueston Huff are already hurt, third safety Kavon Frazier was just cleared for action after a blood disorder limited him during camp, and Heath has also been slowed by an ankle injury, and safety for the Cowboys has left the title need in the rear-view mirror in favor of gaping hole.
Dallas desperately needs one if not two safeties just to field a team right now, and why not go get the best available option who already wants to be here?
To me if the Cowboys and Seahawks couldn’t agree between a 2nd and 3rd round pick last spring, why not reopen talks right now and meet in the middle?
The Cowboys could offer a conditional 3rd that vests into a 2nd if Thomas makes the pro-bowl, is named an all-pro, signs an extension with them, the Cowboys make the playoffs, etc. Dallas could structure the offer in such a way to protect themselves against just giving up a 2nd from the outset, and honestly, if Thomas makes the type of impact he’s expected to, the team will never get that type of talent in the 2nd round next spring anyway.
The Seahawks would still give themselves the opportunity to bring back a high-value draft pick as opposed to just letting one of their best players of all-time walk following the year after a hostile standoff that has even their star quarterback, Russell Wilson, siding with Thomas.
A wrinkle in the safety market was thrown yesterday when Cincinnati surprisingly cut ties with veteran George Iloka, a five-year starter who has been among the better back-end defenders in the league for a long time. Iloka should be of interest to the Cowboys, although his stance on anthem protests may not exactly jive with what Dallas owner Jerry Jones expects.
In the end, a complicated situation can be boiled down to this. Earl Thomas wants out of Seattle and to join the Dallas Cowboys and the Cowboys have a glaring need for him
Seattle would love to move on from this PR nightmare as quickly as possible. It is time for the football men in both organizations to come together and put this saga to bed, in the best interest of both organizations, the player, and the league, which doesn’t benefit from these long drawn out contract disputes.