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Forget Cowboys: Is there another team that makes more sense for Earl Thomas?

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NFL: Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Seattle Seahawks trade Earl Thomas if they’re unable to come to an agreement on a new contract and he holds out, as he has promised to do until he gets a new contract? That might be something they have to consider again, but it also requires having a trade partner that makes sense.

The Dallas Cowboys will be the first team that comes up in all rumors, but is it viable beyond the fact that Thomas has made it publicly known (and by “publicly” I mean he told Jason Garrett) that he wants to play for them?

Thomas has a cap hit of $10.4 million, $8.5 million of which is base salary. He’s also holding out not because he wants to play for the Cowboys, but because he wants more money and financial security, aka he wants years and guarantees added to his deal. Dallas is currently set to pay DeMarcus Lawrence $17.1 million on the franchise tag, meaning they couldn’t come to a long-term agreement with him before the deadline. Think about that for a second.

Lawrence is not nearly as accomplished as Thomas, but he is almost certainly more valuable in 2018. Lawrence only turned 26 in April and he’s a pass rusher with 14.5 sacks last season. Dallas reportedly has $11.4 million in space per OvertheCap.com, so absorbing Thomas will eat up basically all of that, and even then they have to do some housecleaning to make the numbers work by season’s begin. Who would the Cowboys rather have on the books in 2019:

DeMarcus Lawrence at $16 million or Earl Thomas at $12 million?

I think the answer for most GMs, if not all, would be Lawrence. Not that they have to decide between the two, but if they acquire Thomas, they will have to decide either between those two, or between Thomas and Sean Lee, or Thomas and Zach Martin, a player not currently signed beyond next season.

And that’s only if the Cowboys provide a viable trade offer in return for this potential future cap problem. They don’t have to extend Martin right now, but they could. They don’t have to extend any of their own players. But if they acquire Thomas, they know that they have to extend him. That lowers any potential offer to Seattle and also means that the Seahawks have to consider what their lowest low-ball acceptable bid is. Is it a third round pick? After not dealing him prior to the 2018 draft?

Knowing that even if they wait out 2018 and see Earl leave for a big payday in 2019, that they’ll potentially get a third round comp pick at that point anyway. The other consideration could be a player, like say Byron Jones. Jones’s shortcomings as a free safety is the reason that Dallas could even consider trading for Thomas, meaning that the Seahawks know that they won’t be getting a free safety in return for a free safety. Not even former Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard sees Jones as a safety, which is why he moved him to cornerback this offseason as an assistant for the Cowboys. So what are the Seahawks getting back from Dallas at that point? A cornerback-convert, and I’m not sure that Jones would be a more desirable player at this point than their current fifth round pick Tre Flowers.

Is there another player to consider, like someone on that great offensive line? It’s not going to be Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, or Martin. And they drafted Conner Williams in the second round because they had their own problems in that area, not signaling a ton of value in La’El Collins, Chaz Green, or Cam Fleming.

Could anyone besides the Cowboys be both interested and able to acquire Thomas?

The team that still has a ton of cap space ($70m) is the Cleveland Browns, and they are trying to compete in 2018 and take their team to that next level; not just a level above 0-16, but the Browns likely see themselves as a playoff team and they could be right. But they draft Jabrill Peppers in the first round last year and acquired Damarious Randall this year, moving him from cornerback to safety. It wouldn’t be totally out of character for Cleveland to make a trade for a veteran star with a pending contract dispute (Jamie Collins, Jarvis Landry) but acquiring Thomas would be surprising at this point.

Other teams with over $20 million in space include the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and Jacksonville Jaguars.

We can likely rule out the 49ers, as intentionally re-pairing Thomas with Richard Sherman under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh seems a bad idea on Seattle’s side. The Colts are extremely excited about free safety Malik Hooker. The Titans saw Kevin Byard lead the league in interceptions last season. I believe the Bears would be excited about the progress of their young safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson and are not eager to make a move. The Jets just spent first and second round picks on safeties in 2017. The Jaguars are paying Tashaun Gipson good money and he’s played well enough for them to not need to shake up an already-elite secondary.

The Texans are interesting in that they already have the Seahawks’ second round pick because of the Duane Brown trade. They also have a potential need at safety after the sad news that Andre Hal has Hodgkin lymphoma. They drafted Justin Reid — projected by some as a first round pick prior to the draft — in the third round, but it wouldn’t be that wild for them to want a veteran free safety, especially while they’re still in a window of having J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, and Tyrann Mathieu on the same defense.

It also still puts Earl back in Texas.

Would Houston want to give back the second round pick and acquire Thomas? Would they be willing to give him an extension, knowing that they still have a good three years of salary cap flexibility because DeShaun Watson is on his rookie deal? Would the Seahawks be satisfied getting a second round choice (their own) and salary cap relief?

It might make more sense than a trade with the Cowboys, and that’s only if any Thomas trade makes any sense at all.