This was the epitome of a lose/lose situation for the Seahawks and Earl Thomas. It's difficult to fault an NFL player for holding out for an extension. But it's also difficult to fault an organization for refusing to give in.
Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Gambling has always been legal in professional sports. In fact, every general manager and athlete has taken part in it.
Sometimes the GM wins and the player loses. Sometimes it’s the reverse. Sometimes both come out feeling victorious. Sometimes both come out feeling defeated.
But if you strip away the emotion — something I know is almost impossible to do — contracts essentially are one thing: a bet.
There have been two refrains circulating since Sunday, when Earl Thomas suffered what looks to be a season-ending injury. 1) “This is why Earl held out!” 2) “This is why the Seahawks didn’t pay him!”
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It’s not that there aren’t people who see the nuance of the situation, but my impression is that this is a polarizing issue. As for me? If we’re looking at this from a pure business perspective, my conclusion on Thomas vs. Seahawks is this: Everybody lost, and nobody is to blame.
Note the words “business perspective” here. I don’t think some of Thomas’ words or actions were appropriate regardless of how he felt. Constantly griping about being “disrespected” amid a four-year, $40 million contract is a metaphorical middle finger to the everyman. And the literal middle finger he appeared to give the Seahawks’ brass Sunday embodied the disrespect he claimed to be enduring.
But business-wise, I get it. How could you not?
NFL football is the most violent team sport in the world. Livelihoods can be stripped with one torn ACL, one helmet to the neck, one fracture of an ankle.
There isn’t another sport in America where suspense lingers before every injury report or inactive list. If you want to talk about sure-fire bets, it’s that somebody will drive a cart onto the field every game.
So feeling that he was the best safety in the league, Thomas sat out of training camp hoping he could leverage more money from the Seahawks. He chose not to practice at times to preserve his health, correctly guessing it wouldn’t lead to a suspension and the forfeiture of a game check.
His fractured tibia in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals served as Exhibits A-Z as to why he was so defiant.
But it also justified why the Seahawks refused to extend him.
Let me ask you something: Have you ever considered that the Seahawks got a raw deal on Thomas’ current contract?
He missed five regular-season games and two playoff games in 2016, when the Seahawks were bounced by Atlanta in the second round. He missed two games last year, and is all but assured to miss the final 12 games of this season.
Thomas’ four-year, $40 million extension began in 2015. Yet, assuming Seattle misses the playoffs this season, he will have been hurt for 21 of the 68 games under that deal.
You think the Seahawks would have given him that kind of dough had they known that? And can you blame them whatsoever for being hesitant to pay best-safety-in-the-league money to a 29-year-old, given the whiffs they’ve had on previous extensions?
Michael Bennett’s third contract? Disaster for the Seahawks. Kam Chancellor’s and Marshawn Lynch’s? Same thing.
The NFL is littered with organizations that ate millions due to severe injuries that came early in players’ deals. What’s less prevalent are players who are shoving their success in the faces of teams that let them walk.
Safety Eric Weddle made the Pro Bowl twice in a row with the Ravens after San Diego abstained from extending him in 2015, but he would have eaten up a lot of cap space, and I’m not sure the Chargers miss him that much. Peyton Manning made three Pro Bowls and won NFL MVP after the Colts decided to invest in Andrew Luck, but they loved Luck, and Manning might not have been able to do much with that supporting cast. And though examples of this type of regret might be limited because smart teams know when to extend their stars, examples are limited nonetheless.
Look, I will rarely fault an NFL player for holding out for an extension. It’s understandable in most situations, and Earl’s case is no different. But I’ll also rarely fault an organization for refusing to give in.
It might seem heartless for these teams to look at players as commodities, but that’s how employees are viewed in most businesses, and the players know what they’re getting into.
Perhaps the NFLPA can push for guaranteed contracts when it’s time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement after the 2020 season. The players certainly would have a case. But the owners would have a case if they want to push back.
Some players expect a lockout when the deal expires. Or maybe we’ll see a strike.
Each would be a gamble. But so is everything in this league.