You are probably already familiar with Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas’s ongoing dissatisfaction with his contract situation entering the final year of the four-year extension he signed in 2014. But in case you’re surprised at Thomas’s announcement Sunday that he intends to hold out of June minicamp and further team activities until the dispute over his contract future is resolved, the ultimatum didn’t come out of nowhere.
Here is a timeline of Thomas publicly signaling, hinting or outright warning that if the Seahawks management doesn’t fashion him an offer for a long-term deal he could withhold his services from the field, and other significant developments that brought us this standoff:
December 4, 2016 — Thomas breaks leg against Carolina Panthers
Doubts about Earl extending his career in Seattle crept up after Thomas posted a cryptic message on his social feeds about contemplating retirement in the middle of the Seahawks’ 40-7 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday Night Football toward the end of the 2016 season, when Thomas suffered a leg fracture that ended his year prematurely.
This game has been so good to me no regrets.. A lot is running through my mind including retirement thanks for all the prayers.— Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) December 5, 2016
A few weeks later Thomas reasserted his commitment to coming back to football in 2017, but it probably represented the first time fans glimpsed the possibility of a Seattle secondary not patrolled by the All-Pro defender since before Pete Carroll and Thomas arrived virtually in tandem in 2010. Although Thomas has long advocated for premium pay for players, especially fellow safeties, the severe injury also probably focused Thomas’s thoughts about retrieving maximum value from his football career and the importance of locking up protections against a similar calamitous affliction.
August 1, 2017 — “I could be next”
Following the Seahawks signing Thomas’s backfield mate Kam Chancellor to a third contract in the midst of training camp, Earl spoke to Gregg Bell about the sacrifices and dedication he invested in rehabilitating from the broken leg and mentioned how one of his motivations was the market-setting contract signed by Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry that summer after Berry’s own recovery from Hodgkin’s disease.
Later Bell reported another comment made that day as Thomas wondered aloud about the double-edged implication of Chancellor’s own extension—both a new standard for Seattle’s dedication to its core at the time, but also a deal that would occupy a large chunk of the front office’s available spending on defense: “If the writing is on the wall, I want to be able to see it,” Thomas said according to Bell.
November 9, 2017 — Chancellor suffers career-threatening nerve injury
In the third quarter of another nationally-televised Seahawks win, this time over the Arizona Cardinals, Chancellor left the action with what was first reported as a stinger—typically a temporary nerve issue with little lasting consequence. But it later emerged that the damage to Chancellor’s spine was more serious. We still don’t know if Kam will ever be healthy enough to play again, but Seattle remains on the hook for the guarantees general manager John Schneider laid out to Chancellor in his preseason extension. Conceivably, those costs change the dynamic pertaining to Thomas’s anticipated next deal as the Seahawks have to conserve payroll while paying essentially dead money to their other safety.
November 24, 2017 — “I’m overlooked in general”
Thomas’s frustrations started to seep to the fore less than a month later, as he told ESPN’s Josina Anderson he felt disrespected by his own team. Thomas had reportedly mused, while Bradley McDougald was taking his place in the lineup while he sat out two games with a hamstring injury, about the Chiefs releasing Thomas’s former college teammate Jamaal Charles earlier that year following the running back’s multiple knee injuries: “It’s the nature of the business: No matter how good you are, if you get hurt, the team will forget about you.” Added Thomas, “Even on this team ... they don’t respect me like they need to.”
December 20, 2017 — “Actions speak louder”
With frustrations mounting after a pair of ugly losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams, Thomas again alluded to feeling slighted by the Seahawks in a conversation with Bell: “I know whoever gets me, I’m balling. That’s it. I know I’m hot,” Thomas said. Pressed to clarify if he still expected a long-term offer from Seattle like the one handed to Chancellor, he added, “I don’t know. Actions speak louder than words.”
As 247’s Derek Lewis put it back then, “[Thomas is] clearly leery of putting his total faith, or really much faith at all, into the organization and as such, he’s unmoved by previous talk and gestures through other players getting theirs.”
December 24, 2017 — “Come get me!”
Earl Thomas went into Cowboys locker room to talk with Dez. Earl to Garrett: “If y’all have the chance, come get me.” pic.twitter.com/RiGkHB1JsX— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 25, 2017
Another big NFC win, another ominous cloud on the sheltering sky of this widening Thomas odyssey. Earl grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan and when he hollering into the opposing locker room what sounded like a solicitation for a job, it was easy to connect the dots from Earl’s “...whoever gets me” comments earlier in the week.
How loudly do words speak when combined with actions?
January 27, 2018 — Curb your enthusiasm
During Pro Bowl practices Thomas chalked up the controversy in Dallas to being “emotional” after a win mixed with his childhood love of that squad, insisting he didn’t “literally mean” what he said and finishing with, “People take life too serious.” However, he didn’t exactly extinguish the coals of scrutiny or implied discontent by describing a circumstance “when Seattle kicks me to the curb.” Thomas also reiterated his earlier statements about action by explaining how, if the Seahawks really want him in their plans, “Money talks.”
March 7, 2018 — Seattle trades Michael Bennett, shops Thomas ...
Schneider demonstrates his willingness to move on from key stars in order to save money and smooth tensions by swapping the outspoked defensive end for a marginal draft pick. The same day, reports emerge the Seahawks are potentially considering trading Thomas.
March 9, 2018 — ... then releases Richard Sherman
The dismantling continues as the Seahawks front office essentially dissolved the original installment of the Legion of Boom, of which Thomas was obviously a founding member, by cutting their star cornerback after years of his own saga feuding within the organization and an Achilles tendon injury threatening to derail Sherman’s offseason program and potentially sap his athleticism down the line, almost a blow-by-blow repeat of Kansas City’s handling of Charles that had made such an impression on Earl. Later Sherman signed with the San Francisco 49ers, and Thomas managed to keep it lo-drama when he eventually acknowledge the parting of ways with his longtime teammate.
March 23, 2018 — “Guessing game”
In an interview in Ireland promoting the NFL’s enterprise in the United Kingdom, Thomas seemed cavalier about all the uncertainty surrounding his contract, swirling trade rumors and his future with the Seahawks: “Nobody knows,” Earl said. “Whether I’m in Seattle or anywhere else, I’m going to be rich and happy regardless.”
March 24, 2018 — “Molecules of emotion”
In a two-paragraph screenshot posted on Twitter Thomas voiced his desire to remain a Seahawk and his gratitude for Pete Carroll as well as club owner Paul Allen. “Keep in mind ... I’m always coming from a perspective of a gambling man that’s willing to bet on myself if my back is against the wall and things are out of my control. But never for a moment think I want to leave this beautiful city,” Thomas wrote.
April 17, 2018 — Earl skips voluntary workouts
As expected, Thomas didn’t show up for predraft team activities but during their media availabilities both Carroll and Schneider said they expected Thomas to remain in the team’s plans going forward. Carroll said, “We’re counting on him,” and Schneider indicated he did not think Thomas would hold out from training camp.
April 26-28, 2018 — NFL Draft
Draft day came and went with Thomas still on the Seattle roster, although reportedly Schneider was indeed closing in on a deal with the Cowboys but the agreement broke down over whether fair compensation for Earl’s final year was worth a second or a third round pick.
June 10, 2018 — Holdout becomes official
Thomas continues to drive a hard bargain, as Sunday’s news brings Seahawks fans’ anxieties about an Earl-less preseason, or worse, crashing back into frame.
Will the ninth-year free safety continue to play the “deep third” by isolating himself from the organization and the lockerroom before Schneider and company open up their pocketbooks, or will he bolt in to join the group at some point even without a contract like one of his characteristic run fills at the last moment? Most likely Thomas defends his perceived value as relentlessly as he protects every blade of grass in front of the end zone. But Seattle still has two or three months to grant Earl the guaranteed cash and respect he seeks before this conflict starts to do more damage than the dreaded if intangible “distraction” hanging over the approaching camps.
Perhaps this latest gambit is just the negotiating ploy to get Schneider to come to the table with Thomas’s representatives, using the only leverage Thomas has for now. But of course the GM has to balance Earl’s family’s interests against the financial constraints of the salary cap as he tries to wedge open the window of the club’s opportunity to win forever. Actions speak louder than words, and hopefully for the security of the Seahawks’ end zones in the games that count, Schneider can get Earl out of his sweatshirt and into shoulder pads before the season kicks off.