The popular wisdom has been that they need an “either-or” exit strategy from the Earl drama – pay him or trade him. But Carroll is trying to exist, and thrive, in the netherworld where they do neither.
Maybe Pete Carroll can somehow pull this off – keep navigating a disgruntled Earl Thomas through his contractual unhappiness all week, ride out the occasional waves of rebellion and then reap the rewards on Sundays.
If so, it would be one of the crowning achievements of his coaching career. But it’s a strategy fraught with danger, and one that doesn’t seem destined to end well.
Oh, the Seahawks appear more confident than ever that they can extract the most out of Thomas on a week-by-week basis. The popular wisdom has been that they need an “either-or” exit strategy from the Earl drama – pay him or trade him. But Carroll is trying to exist, and thrive, in the netherworld where they do neither.
So far it’s hard to argue with the results. Despite missing training camp, despite talking bluntly about how he’s “going to protect myself until I do get paid,” despite missing two practices last week apparently without permission and vowing to skip practice “if I feel like if I have anything, even if it’s something small, if I got a headache’’ – despite all that, on game day Thomas has been exemplary.
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What he’s been is the best safety in the game (ranked as such by Pro Football Focus). Carroll believes they have enough history together, Thomas and the Seahawks, to forge an uneasy truce whereby they can keep successfully muddling through this. The coach was upbeat Wednesday, expressing confidence they will do just that.
“Really, we’re way beyond all that stuff,” Carroll said when asked if he’s worried that Thomas’ dissatisfaction will keep cropping up. “We’ve been working through stuff, we’re going, we’re ready. That’s not even a concern of mine right now. No, I’m not concerned. I think we’re in a good place, and we’ve talked through the things we needed to talk through, and we’re moving.”
Thomas was an excused absence from practice Wednesday, which very well may be a part of “working through stuff.” Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. had no problems with that arrangement.
“Earl is at all the meetings, he’s taking all the notes, communicating well with the coaches and the players,” he said. “You saw it on the sideline; he does a great job. At the same time, he is getting older and there are certain rest days that come up for certain veterans.
“He’s talking with the coaches, mentally going through all the plays, talking to the players, a lot of the mental side of ball that a lot of people don’t really understand. The game, when you get to a certain age, is a lot more mental than physical, and you’ve got to get your mind right to really take care of all the things that are necessary physically. Earl understands that, and we all understand that, that we have to take care of our players when they get to a certain position.
“So far, so good.”
It’s the “so far” part that is pertinent. If the Seahawks can keep working their way through this situation, perhaps up to the NFL trade deadline on Oct. 30 (two days after their Week 8 game against Detroit), more power to them. It would be a remarkable feat. Then they could assess whether they are in legitimate playoff contention, and if not it would seem a logical time to step up their efforts to trade Thomas.
But Thomas is a wild card. Though they might be appeasing him now, there’s no telling when his contract dissatisfaction will boil over again. Thomas seems to be skirting at least two of Carroll’s ironclad rules: “Always protect the team” and “No Whining, No Complaining, No Excuses.” But while his earlier comment sounded like someone susceptible to making a so-called “business decision” on the field – shying away from a play to protect his health – to his credit there has been no sign of that through three games.
“I think he’s a baller,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner, expressing his belief that Thomas will keep performing well on game day. “At the end of the day, there’s going to be a bunch of stuff that happens during the week, and the great ones are able to put that aside. … When it comes time for a game, they come and they play. That’s what Earl does, and that’s what I expect from him.
“I know it’s a lot of stuff going on each week, but when it’s Sunday, and I see 2-9 (29, Thomas’ uniform number) out there, I expect him to be where he’s supposed to be and make the play he’s supposed to make.”
Asked generically about players who make those “business decisions,” Carroll said: “There have been times when coaches and players make comments about that. Yeah, I’ve always been pretty strong about that, it’s not OK. To let a guy run or let a guy go, don’t take a shot at making a block or something because you’re trying to save yourself. Because you’re playing for your teammates, and so you have to do everything you can to help them, and help them win. It’s not been a direct issue for a long time. I don’t have a whole lot of tolerance for that.”
The Seahawks believe they can keep getting the best out of Thomas on Sundays, no matter how he’s feeling the other six days. For a team that needs all the help it can get, they’ve decided it’s a gamble worth taking. In the meantime, it will be hard not to wonder, each day, if this is when it all blows up. In the meantime, they forge ahead.
“He’s on fire right now, and we want to keep it going,’’ Carroll said.
Let’s see if they can.