Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was back at practice Wednesday afternoon and could play Sunday against Denver.
All may not be forgiven and forgotten, especially from Earl Thomas’ perspective.
But as Thomas on Wednesday ended a holdout that essentially stretched back to last New Year’s Eve when the Seahawks played the final game of the 2017 regular season, coach Pete Carroll insisted the relationship can pick up where it left off.
“We would like him to be a Seahawk for the rest of his career,” Carroll said.
Thomas didn’t sound so sure about that in an Instagram post published around 9 a.m. Wednesday announcing his return.
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“I worked my whole life for this…..,” Thomas wrote. “I’ve never let me (my) teammates, city or fans down as long as I’ve lived and don’t plan on starting this weekend. With that being said, the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten. Father Time may have an undefeated record but best believe I plan on taking him into triple overtime when it comes to my career.”
But first things first. And come 2 p.m., when the Seahawks began their first Wednesday practice in preparation for Sunday’s regular season opener at Denver, Thomas was back in pads, wearing his familiar number 29, at one point during stretching seen sharing a few words with Carroll.
“It’s really good to have him back,” Carroll said. “It’s an adjustment period as he jumps in with us now and we have to figure out how that works. Our guys will welcome him back. They are excited to see him and we will move forward with that.”
Thomas held out in hope of a lengthy extension of his four-year, $40 million deal that expires after the 2018 season, thinking he would get what he feels he’s due — apparently, to be the highest-paid safety in the NFL.
But Thomas returned with no extension — and apparently no promise of one, and by most accounts, no substantive talks toward one, even if Carroll’s statement that the team wants Thomas to be a Seahawk for the rest of his career loudly hinted that the team won’t rule out an extension at some point.
“We’ll see as we go forward,” Carroll said when asked if there would be any movement toward securing Thomas’ future before stating again that his hope is Thomas will remain with the Seahawks. “That’s how we’ve always thought about it. The rest of it we’ll take care of when the time is right.”
Thomas’ statement that the “disrespect has been noted” might indicate that Thomas won’t so easily fall back into the fold.
Carroll insisted otherwise, saying he had talked to Thomas as well as to the team about Thomas’ return.
“I don’t anticipate any issues at all other than what comes back to us and we have the questions that we have to answer (from the media) and all that,” Carroll said. “There is too much at hand right now and we are going to move forward.”
Thomas’ return came on the heels of another report from Adam Schefter of ESPN that the Seahawks were offered a second-round pick by Dallas “within the past week” for Thomas but turned it down. A source confirmed to the Times that the Seahawks got a second-round offer but refused to accept it because they were holding out for at a first round offer.
Intriguingly, when Carroll was asked if Thomas could still be traded, he said again that the hope is Thomas never plays for another team.
“He’s a Seahawk,” Carroll said. “He’s a Seahawk. He’s always been one and he’ll be one forever.”
Thomas, who has not taken part in any activities with the Seahawks since the end of the 2017 season, racked up potential fines of more than $1.5 million from missed practice days and bonuses the team could recoup during his holdout. Those are all at team discretion, however, and Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that the Seahawks “did agree to wipe away almost all of his fines.”
Carroll would not confirm that, simply saying those issues would stay internal.
Had Thomas continued to hold out, though, he was guaranteed to begin losing significant money. Players are paid each week during the regular season for being on the roster, and Thomas would have lost 1/17th of his $8.5 million salary had he not shown up this week — $500,000. That’s money he would never have gotten back.
NFL collective bargaining rules would also have forced Thomas to show up eventually. If he didn’t report by midseason his contract could have tolled, meaning if he did not play this season (or half of it, at the least) he would still be under contract to Seattle in 2019. Also, as a vested veteran, Thomas’ base salary for this season becomes fully guaranteed if he is on the roster week one.
Seattle has not wanted to give Thomas an extension, apparently as part of its “retooling” that also saw the team move on from the likes of Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett. They wanted Thomas to play out his contract first — or get assurance that he will. Undoubtedly, Seattle also did not want to reward Thomas’ holdout with a new contract, a stance they also took during Kam Chancellor’s holdout in 2015, which also ended with Chancellor returning without a new deal.
Thomas, who turns 30 in May, began griping about his contract before last season, chatter that continued throughout the 2017 campaign, notably when he told Dallas coach Jason Garrett to “come get me” when the Seahawks “kicked me to the curb.”
That has led to a stalemate that has had Seattle entertaining trade offers for Thomas since last spring.
A second-round pick in exchange for Thomas would replace the second-rounder Seattle doesn’t have in 2019 as part of the deal to acquire left tackle Duane Brown from Houston last October. Seattle is also said to want more for Thomas than a third-round pick because it could theoretically get a third-round pick in 2020 as compensation if Thomas were to sign elsewhere as a free agent.
Thomas will avoid becoming the first Seahawk since Chancellor in 2015 to miss games due to a holdout. Chancellor missed the first two games before reporting.
Thomas’s return to Seattle from Texas on Monday was publicized on Twitter when he posed for a photo with a worker at SeaTac airport. A later report stated Thomas was in town solely to accompany his daughter to her first day of school.
But Carroll foreshadowed that maybe something was going on when he was asked Monday if there had been any additional contact with Thomas and he paused and said there was “nothing to report.” That was different from the simple “no” Carroll had offered several other times in recent weeks when asked about any new contact with Thomas.
Wednesday, Carroll acknowledged that Thomas being back in town had had some meaning.
“It’s been coming,” Carroll said of Thomas’ return. “It’s been coming the last couple of days. He’s ready. He wants to play football. He’s ready to get back at it.”
Thomas, a University of Texas alum, had been working out primarily in Austin. Thomas has been on a reserve/did not report list and has not counted against the team’s 53-man roster.
The Seahawks on Wednesday asked for, and received, an exemption from the NFL for Thomas to be able to return to practice and not count against the team’s 53-man roster.
But to play Sunday against Denver the Seahawks will have to place him on the 53-man roster by Saturday.
Asked if Thomas will start Sunday, Carroll said “I don’t know that. We’ll see.”
Thomas declined to talk to reporters on Wednesday but may do so later in the week.
In 2015, Chancellor reported back on Wednesday of game week before and played 37 of 47 snaps that Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
Some of Thomas’ teammates said there would be no hesitation in welcoming him back. Receiver Doug Baldwin said he was “ecstatic” and “excited” to see Thomas back in the meeting room.
Said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner when asked about Thomas’s return: “Feels good man. It was pretty cool to see him walking into the meeting room. And you know to get a guy like that back, you know he’s probably been going through a lot, so I just felt like it was important for us to just kind of embrace him and let him know he was on our hearts while he wasn’t here and just welcome him back.”
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., meanwhile, joked that “I became a better coach today” with Thomas’ return.
Norton echoed Carroll in saying it was too soon to know if Thomas could play against Denver.
But he didn’t rule it out after watching Thomas back on the practice field Wednesday.
“If you know Earl he is ready,” Norton said. “He’s never not ready, so we understand what his work ethic has been since he has been here, the things that have made him be one of the top players in the league. So I think if you now anything about Earl you know he is ready.”