RENTON — The lasting image — or, at least, the last image — of Earl Thomas in a Seahawks uniform was his middle-finger gesture toward Pete Carroll.
More than a year later, as Thomas prepares to make his return to Seattle on Sunday in Baltimore Ravens colors, Carroll said he has no hard feelings toward the former All-Pro safety.
“Obviously he was upset,” Carroll said Wednesday, when asked about Thomas’ gesture as Thomas was being carted off the field with a broken tibia in Arizona on Sept. 30, 2018.
“But,” the Seahawks coach added, “my heart’s pretty big, pretty wide open to these guys from the time we spend together and all the stuff that we do. It’s way more important than some gesture or some statement. … I kind of have space for them to be themselves and how they do it and how they handle it — I’m going to love them anyway.”
Thomas, at the time of his gesture, had been in a bitter contract dispute with the Seahawks, and he told ESPN this summer he did not regret his middle finger because he didn’t feel the Seahawks properly valued him.
“I gave Pete the middle finger because I felt like he wasn’t being honest with me,” Thomas said then.
To which Carroll mostly shrugged on Wednesday.
“I know what the relationship means to me,” Carrol said. “I’ll always be there for him. If he needs me I’ll be there.”
In their first draft in Seattle, Carroll and John Schneider selected Thomas in the first round out of Texas in 2010, and Thomas went on to become a six-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and a central figure in the Legion of Boom defense that won Super Bowl XLVIII.
“Earl was a great football players for us in the years he was here. We loved what he did — his uniqueness and his style of play,” Carroll said. “The way he practiced and his focus was somewhat unmatchable. We just couldn’t stay together forever, you know. Couldn’t figure out how to do that. But wish him the best and looking forward to (Sunday).”
Thomas, 30, signed a four-year, $55-million contract with the Ravens this offseason. He did not have any discussions with the Seahawks.
“I feel like they were kind of trying to phase me out (of Seattle),” Thomas told reporters in Baltimore on Wednesday. “They were thinking more linebackers that you see. They’ve got the three-headed monster with K.J. (Wright), Bobby (Wagner) and (Mychal) Kendricks. And obviously, Coach (Ken) Norton is the D-coordinator. He’s a linebacker at heart, so I understood what was going on.”
Any extra emotions coming back to Seattle?
“Nothing has hit me yet,” Thomas said. “I’m just trying to get the game plan down, just taking it one day at a time, trying to get my body right for the game. But no emotions yet. Nothing has really hit me yet.”
Thomas will be the second former Legion of Boom member to return to Seattle in a different uniform, after Richard Sherman with the 49ers last year.
“When we know guys, we like playing against them,” Carroll said. “You’ve got relationships and it’s fun to see them out there and it’s fun to go against them. There’s nothing we like more than beating the guys that we love.”