The Cowboys, long considered a team likely interested in Thomas, now has a lot more salary cap room and flexibility.
Regardless of how serious may have been his intent last Christmas Eve when Earl Thomas went to the Dallas locker room and told coach Jason Garrett to “come get me,’’ the moment made clear that Thomas might someday like to play for the Cowboys.
And the odds of that happening as soon as this season may well have increased on Friday when Dallas released receiver Dez Bryant.
It was reported that Bryant will be released immediately (meaning, not with a June 1 designation), which will save the Cowboys roughly $8.5 million in cap space for 2018.
It also will save Dallas another $12.5 million in cap space for 2019, which was the final year of Bryant’s contract.
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And that means that if the Cowboys really want to acquire Thomas, they now have a lot more cap room and flexibility going forward to make it more realistically work.
Dallas also has to re-up guard Zack Martin and defensive end Demarcus Lawrence at some point (Lawrence signed a franchise tag) and had just $1.9 million in cap space for 2018 before releasing Bryant.
Granted, teams can always do things to create some room. But one thought is that the Cowboys weren’t going to want to add another potential $12 million-$14 million salary or so (what Thomas would likely want in an extension) while they still had two years left of Bryant at $16.5 million.
But now Bryant and his salary are gone, making it easier to fit in Thomas —- the Cowboys would undoubtedly want to make a trade only if they knew they could work out a contract extension for Thomas, whose deal runs out following the 2018 season.
Of course, that assumes the Cowboys want him.
Certainly, they have the need, with a secondary that a year ago struggled to make plays (just 10 interceptions) and the expectation that Byron Jones will move from free safety to cornerback.
And they have what Seattle would likely want — a decent first-round pick, at No. 19 overall, just behind the Seahawks at 18.
Dallas also has picks in the second round (50) and third round (81), the combination of which almost equal a first-rounder on what is now considered to be the draft value chart used by the Seahawks (those two picks would equal 169 points, basically the equal of the 35th pick in the draft).
Throw in a sixth-rounder — Dallas has three — and there you go if Seattle’s goal would be to get a first-rounder or the equivalent for Thomas (though yes, the Cowboys would likely be reluctant to trade both of their second- and third-round picks and not have any on the second day in a year when the city is hosting the draft).
That might be more than enough for the Seahawks, who do not have any picks in the second and third rounds — general manager John Schneider has now said publicly on a few different occasions the team hopes to get some sort of picks in those rounds.
The Seahawks are known exploring options for Thomas, who said in January he would consider holding out if he does not have a new contract before the beginning of the 2018 season.
He is due $8.5 million this year on a contract that pays him an average of $10 million per season but would likely want a contract that might push $13 million-$14 million or so a year to make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL (Kansas City’s Eric Berry is the highest-paid safety in the NFL on a per-year basis at $13 million).
Seattle has already shown it is willing to make transformative roster moves this year, having traded Michael Bennett and released Richard Sherman.
True, Seattle could just keep Thomas and know it might get as high as a third-round comp pick in 2020, or could use a franchise tag to retain him. But Seattle has shown little desire to use tags (not having done so since 2010).
And the Seahawks also appear willing at this point to make a move to get rid of a player early and make sure to get something for him rather than waiting and taking their chances later (Sherman being the case study there, with the team dangling him in trade talks last year only to then hold on to him and Sherman then suffering an Achilles injury that left no viable trade options this year).
Schneider intriguingly said at the league meetings last month that the Seahawks were not talking to Thomas about an extension after having said at the NFL Combine a few weeks earlier that the team was in contact with Thomas’ people.
Schneider and Carroll have also now had a combined four times to say they weren’t looking to trade Thomas — their media sessions at the combine and league meetings — and haven’t done so.
As for Thomas, it was his Texas roots —he grew up in Orange, Texas, about five-and-a-half-hours from Dallas and then played for the Longhorns — that he later admitted were an impetus for his strange overture to Garrett in December.
If something happens, it likely would occur by the NFL draft, which is April 26-28.
Intrigue indeed is continuing to build.