When NFL free agency began this week, Baltimore wasn’t where many had Earl Thomas flying off to.
Dallas, San Francisco, Kansas City, even Cleveland were all regarded as possible destinations for Thomas, who was a six-time Pro Bowler with the Seahawks but whose one-fingered salute as he was carted off the field against Arizona last September made clear that he was ready, willing and eager to become a former Seahawk.
That he officially did Wednesday when the surprising word came that he was signing with the Ravens. A few hours after reports broke, the Ravens announced it with a celebratory tweet right at 1 p.m. Seattle time — the first time teams could officially sign unrestricted free agent players to contracts.
Thomas signed a four-year deal worth $55 million that includes a $20 million signing bonus and guaranteed salaries $2 million and $10 million in 2019 and 2020 and then non-guaranteed base salaries of $11 million and $12 million in 2021 and 2022.
That gives Thomas an average per year salary of $13.75 million, which puts Thomas just behind the $14 million per year of Landon Collins (who signed this week with Washington) and Tyrann Mathieu (who signed with Kansas City). Thomas made $10 million a year on his previous contract with Seattle, a four-year, $40 million deal he signed in the spring of 2014.
While few covering the league had connected Thomas to the Ravens before Wednesday, it became apparent later that the Ravens were serious about pursuing Thomas after releasing Eric Weddle last week. Weddle eventually signed with the Rams, a team that had been thought interested in Thomas.
That Thomas turns 30 on May 7 and suffered season-ending broken legs two of the last three seasons had some observers wondering if he would truly get the big payday he so obviously desired, as evidenced by his holdout last year, especially as the free agent legal tampering period began Monday and players such as Mathieu and Collins signed huge contracts elsewhere.
But ultimately Thomas gets the kind of contract that the Seahawks never wanted to offer. In fact, sources indicate Seattle and Thomas never talked about a contract following the 2018 season.
Seattle will host the Ravens at CenturyLink Field next season, though, so Thomas will make a quick return to Seattle.
Shortly after the news broke, Thomas tweeted simply “Yeaaaaaaaa !!” with emojis of a money bag and praying hands. He followed it up with a tweet saying, “Thank you Seattle for the love and memories that my family and I will never forget.”
Thomas had made it clear for more than a year that he wanted a significant contract extension to stay with Seattle or he wanted to move on. That desire led to Thomas holding out all of training camp last year, only to return before the start of the regular season so he would not miss any game checks of his $8.5 million base salary in 2018. He played just four games in 2018 before suffering a broken leg in a game against Arizona, his second broken leg in three seasons.
Thomas had also made it clear he would he happy to head to his home state of Texas and play for Dallas, infamously approaching Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and telling him to “come get me” following a game there on Christmas Eve in 2017.
But Dallas reportedly did not want to pay Thomas more than about $11 million a year.
Rumors circulated Tuesday night that Thomas was talking with the Cleveland Browns. But those reports were quashed early Wednesday morning and news then broke of his signing with the Ravens.
Thomas’ departure, along with injured strong safety Kam Chancellor’s expected release before the 2019 season, means the Seahawks could enter the season with just one or two members of the defense that won the Super Bowl following the 2013 season — Bobby Wagner, who is under contract through 2019, and K.J. Wright, who is an unrestricted free agent and has yet to sign with anyone.
Thomas leaves Seattle going down as one of the three best safeties in team history along with Hall of Famer Kenny Easley and Chancellor, with whom he helped form the famed Legion of Boom defense from 2010 until Chancellor’s career-ending injury against Arizona on Nov. 9, 2017.
Thomas made six Pro Bowls while with the Seahawks, who drafted him with the No. 14 overall pick out of Texas in 2010, the second pick of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era. Thomas was a first team All-Pro pick three times.
Thomas started 107 straight games for Seattle from 2010 until suffering a hamstring injury in 2016, the second-longest streak for a position player in team history behind guard Chris Gray’s 121 (from 1999-2006) and longest of any defensive player.
Without Thomas last season, the Seahawks started Tedric Thompson at free safety and Bradley McDougald at strong safety, and then went with McDougald at free safety and Delano Hill at strong safety for two games when Thompson was injured.
Barring a major move, that could be how Seattle enters the 2019 season with Thomas finally, officially, out the door, having found a new home almost as far away from Seattle as could be.