The Seahawks may be assessing their chances to work out an extension with Thomas while feeling out other teams to see what they would give up for the perennial All-Pro. But considering how many bedrock players have left, Thomas is too valuable to be part of the exodus.
That’s on top of Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor, who might be injured too badly to play for Seattle (or anyone) again, and a significant portion of the coaching staff, including the offensive and defensive coordinators and assistant head coach, sent packing.
For the Seahawks, it’s nothing less than a re-invention of personnel, strategy and culture following a season in which the fumes of their Super Bowl years finally stopped transporting them to the playoffs.
More defections no doubt will follow, as the NFL’s free-agency period gains steam. But unless the Seahawks’ intention here is to endure a season or two of rebuilding before resuming serious contention — and there are many reasons to think that’s not the case — then there is one player they simply can’t let get away.
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I’m talking about safety Earl Thomas. We have reached a delicate stage in which the Seahawks might well be trying to assess, once and for all, their chances of working out a contract extension with Thomas while feeling out other teams to see what they would give up for a 28-year-old perennial All-Pro with a year left on his deal.
Considering how many bedrock players have left or are leaving, Thomas is far too valuable — as an example to younger players of how the Seahawks want to play defense, as a link to the glory days, and especially as the last remaining anchor of the Legion of Boom — to be part of the exodus.
Of course, it’s far more complicated than that. It always is in the NFL, where the salary cap dictates moves that the heart and mind don’t endorse. If you give Thomas a hefty extension, you risk limiting your ability to make necessary additions. And if you don’t, you risk having a malcontented player who already has threatened a holdout and has made it abundantly clear that “getting paid” is a pre-eminent goal.
But to deal Thomas, a transcendent talent still on the fringe of his prime, for draft picks would be a clear sign that Seattle’s emphasis is not on winning now. And that doesn’t jibe with other circumstances — namely, a coach in Pete Carroll with just two years left on his contract and not getting any younger at 66 (he’ll turn 67 in September), and a franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson with two years left on his contract. You just have to look at the recent quarterback transactions to see how treacherous the QB market will be as the Wilson negotiations near. But right now, you have Wilson at the perfect junction of experience and ability, and that must be fully exploited.
It would behoove the Seahawks to lock down Thomas, one of their beacons of talent and institutional knowledge, to join the cadre of defensive links to the glory years — a shrinking group now pretty much reduced to Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
Here’s the thing: Despite all these moves they’ve made, and despite the bolstering of the 49ers and Rams within the division, the Seahawks still have a chance to make a playoff run. There is a nucleus of elite talent on hand that will enable that, led by the proverbial franchise quarterback in Wilson — but that assessment would be compromised if Thomas is shipped out. The Seahawks have had glimpses of what they look like without Thomas, and it’s not pretty.
Right now, everyone is focused on the players who have left, and rightly so. In some cases, they have been foundational to the Seahawks’ run of success, strong personalities who engender strong reactions, positive and negative. It has been jarring to see such vital players to past success head off to other teams. But eventually, general manager John Schneider will start to add players, and the outlook will brighten.
You can make an argument that the Seahawks won’t be devastated by the loss of an aging Bennett and an injured Sherman. You certainly can make the case (though it’s not one I’d endorse) that the locker room will be happier and more cohesive without them.
But it’s hard to view a Seahawks team in 2018 without Thomas as better, or closer to the playoffs. And if that’s still their goal, they need to find a way to keep him here.