Have we seen the last of Earl Thomas in a Seahawks uniform? Examining three key issues surrounding rumors that the Seahawks could trade Thomas.
That the Seahawks could trade Earl Thomas isn’t really a new thing.
Rumblings that it was something Seattle had to at least think about have circulated since last fall given Thomas’ evident desire for a new, big contract before the 2018 season and the Seahawks’ potential reluctance to give him what he wants.
That it could actually happen, though, became even more real at the NFL Combine this week when neither Seattle coach Pete Carroll nor general manager John Schneider did anything to quell the rumors when they met the media for the first time since the end of the 2017 season.
Carroll, asked if the team has been talking to Thomas, gave only a vague “everybody is talking to everybody right now” without adding the common addendum that the team hopes to get something done, etc.
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And Schneider, also given a chance to state that the team hoped to keep Thomas around for the long haul, gave a similarly vague answer when asked if the team has had discussions with Thomas, saying “Earl is under contract. I’ve talked to his representatives in the meetings we’ve had down here. We are meeting with all our guys here, as well as other teams, you know. Trying to figure out where everybody is. We have a huge map, and we’re just trying to put it all together.”
Intriguingly, Schneider then said that the team’s precedent of desiring to lock up core players before they reach the final year of their contracts didn’t apply in this case since it would be Thomas’ third contract with the team and not his second.
In other words, the team might not want to make the same kind of investment as Thomas reaches his 30s — he turns 29 May 7 — as it did when he signed a four-year, $40 million deal in the spring of 2014. It’s thought Thomas would likely want up to $14 million a season so he’d be the highest-paid safety in the NFL, but might ask for even more, especially if he might really rather play elsewhere (such as Dallas) and force Seattle’s hand.
Schneider’s comments about Thomas came after he had said that the team has no untouchable players and that basically everything is on the table.
Friday afternoon, the buzz grew stronger when longtime national NFL writer Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com wrote “At this point I’d be quite surprised if Thomas was not moved.’’
Which leads us to three questions — what could Seattle get for Thomas, who might be interested, and where would this trade rank in Seahawks’ history?
1. What could Seattle get?
Thomas is hardly old, and while he’s had a few injuries the last two seasons, he’s hardly beat up, at least by NFL standards. But any team trading for him would know that he has just one year left on his contract and would want a big deal in the season that he turns 30, all of which could mute the market a little bit.
Still, Thomas remains maybe the best free safety in the NFL — he’s made the Pro Bowl six times in eight years.
La Canfora assessed Thomas’ value this way: “They won’t give away Earl Thomas, however; they’ll demand some value there with one year left on the perennial Pro Bowler’s deal at a manageable $8.5 million. And in the end I suspect they can land a few Day 2 picks to get something done. ‘’
One source at the Combine, though, said the Seahawks would try to get a first-round pick and then also a mid-round pick, possibly a fourth. Seattle’s cap situation means it would prefer draft picks, especially since it has only a pick at number 18 in the first round and then none until 120 in the fourth.
The Seahawks also may feel as if they can replace Thomas from within. Seattle is expected to re-sign free agent Bradley McDougald, who can play either safety spot, and last year drafted safeties Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson, each of whom were intriguingly mentioned by Schneider on Friday.
“No one’s talking about Delano or Thompson,’’ Schneider said. “Those guys who are…they are good football players.’’
Hill is a strong safety and Thompson plays free, giving Seattle some options if Thomas were to be traded but then McDougald re-signed (and with Kam Chancellor still expected unlikely to make it back).
And equally intriguing, in one of the few direct answers Carroll gave Thursday, he admitted the team would consider using DeShawn Shead at safety instead of cornerback, assuming he re-signs. Shead played both safety spots earlier in his career before settling at cornerback in 2016, and could give the team even further options if it decides to re-tool at safety (and obviously the Seahawks could also look to free agency and the draft).
2. Which other teams might be logical trade partners?
Dallas is an obvious team based on Thomas’ “come get me’’ comment to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett late in the season, though it’s worth wondering at least a little if Seattle might prefer to get Thomas out of the NFC.
But the Cowboys not only make sense cause it’s where Thomas would want to play (and likely meaning Dallas would be more comfortable that he’d more easily agree to a long-term deal) but because the Cowboys aren’t exactly rich at free safety — former first-round pick Byron Jones is the main guy there but generally has been regarded as a disappointment.
Four others who could make some sense?
— Carolina, which just released veteran Kurt Coleman.
— Houston, a team the Seahawks famously did business with last October and whose safeties are generally regarded as a weak point.
— Oakland, whose general manager Reggie McKenzie is one of Schneider’s best friends and could have a hole at free safety if Reggie Nelson is not re-signed.
— And the Steelers, who have long been expected likely to release veteran Mike Mitchell and his $8.1 million cap hit.
Each of the above teams has its first-round pick this year other than Houston, which doesn’t have a pick until the third. But Houston has its first and two seconds in 2019 (including Seattle’s via the Duane Brown trade) and Seattle might be more than happy to take future draft capital it could use in trades for this year if it wanted.
3. Have the Seahawks ever traded a player of Thomas’ stature at this point in his career?
At this point, it seems Thomas has already done enough to someday be elected to the team’s Ring of Honor — his six Pro Bowls trail only Hall of Famers Walter Jones, Cortez Kennedy and Steve Largent.
About the only trade that might compare is that of Hall of Famer Kenny Easley in 1988 to the Arizona Cardinals for quarterback Kelly Stouffer.
But that trade was later amended when Easley failed his physical due to kidney issues and he would never play again.
Otherwise, about the only other thing that comes close is when Seattle dealt receiver Joey Galloway —who had 1,000 or more yards in three of the four full seasons he played with Seattle and was the team’s first-round pick in 1995 — to Dallas for two first-round picks.
But while Galloway was a hugely productive receiver who would play 16 season and remains 30th in NFL history in receiving touchdowns, he didn’t make the kind of impact Thomas has. Or, if any of this actually comes to fruition, the kind of legacy that Thomas would leave behind.