Many speculated Thomas would be traded to Dallas after losing to the Seahawks in September. But a season-ending broken leg the next week ended Thomas' season, and both teams rallied to make the playoffs without him.
One thing we learned in a span of about 10 months is that, if the Seahawks won and Earl Thomas was in uniform, there was a good chance nobody would be talking about the victory.
This was certainly the case in September, when Thomas’ bird-flip toward his sideline overshadowed Seattle’s walkoff win in Arizona. But an equally infamous gesture took place in December 2017, the last time the Seahawks took on the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Casual fans don’t need much of a memory jolt. Seattle beat Dallas in Week 16 to remain in the playoff hunt, only to discover that Thomas had tracked down Cowboys coach Jason Garrett after the game to tell him to “come get me.”
SEAHAWKS vs. COWBOYS
NFC Wild Card
Saturday, Jan. 5 | 5:15 p.m. | FOX
The remark justifiably upset teammates, and laid down the foundation for a contentious contract dispute that in 2018 lingered over training camp and the first four weeks of the regular season.
It ranked among the all-time bizarre Seahawks moments — and one that encapsulated the essence of Earl. But just more than year later, it’s equally bizarre to think how insignificant that moment was in regard to the futures of the two franchises involved.
On Saturday night, Dallas hosts Seattle in a wild-card playoff game at Jerry World. And though Thomas is still technically a member of the Seahawks, I’d be willing to bet a month’s rent that he’s rooting for the team with stars on their helmets.
The Cowboys are who he grew up rooting for as a kid in Texas. They’re who many speculated he’d be traded to after they lost to the Seahawks in Week 3 of this season.
But on Saturday he likely won’t be on either sideline. That’s not noteworthy in its own right.
What’s noteworthy is … that nobody seems to care.
When Thomas suffered a season-ending broken leg vs. the Cardinals in Week 4, it seemed to spell doom for a 2-2 Seahawks team that had just barely beaten the worst team in the league. The game vs. the Rams seven days later was thought to be formality in which L.A. would spend four quarters playing with its food.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, appeared destined for a second consecutive losing season following Dak Prescott’s and Ezekiel Elliott’s monumental rookie years. They were 2-3 after a Week 5 loss to Houston with few signs pointing to future promise.
Surely one of these teams could have benefited from a healthy Thomas, the most likely Hall of Famer from that Seattle Super Bowl team. Until suddenly it didn’t seem as though they needed him at all.
The Seahawks didn’t win that game vs. the Rams in Week 5, but they played them tougher than anybody had for the first half of the season. They went on to win eight of their next 11, and six of their final seven.
The Cowboys have been equally dominant, reeling off wins in eight of their next 11 games since that Houston loss and joining the Seahawks as one of the NFL’s hottest teams.
Well, the Seahawks underwent one of the most rapid NFL transformations since the turn of the century. They managed to shed almost all of the Pro Bowl talent that led them to back-to-back Super Bowls without sacrificing immediate success.
Their running game returned to the top of the league. Russell Wilson tossed the most touchdown passes of his career despite throwing less often than any season since 2013.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner continued his defensive dominance, running back Chris Carson broke out as a star, receiver Tyler Lockett and defensive end Frank Clark have had career years, rookie punter Michael Dickson made the Pro Bowl, and the overhauled defense finished a respectable 11th in points allowed.
More than anything, though, they carved out an identity independent of the one that had enraptured the country just a few seasons earlier.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, rallied behind Elliott, the league leader in rushing for the second time in three seasons, and held opponents to 20.2 points per game — good for sixth-best in the NFL.
So here we are — the 10-6 Seahawks vs. the 10-6 Cowboys in what I feel is one of the more intriguing wild-card games we’ve seen in some time. And if the future sent a message to fans in September that these teams would be meeting, they’d all assume Thomas would be the primary plot line.
Three months later, that’s nowhere near the case. Three months later, as Seattle meets Dallas at AT&T Stadium, Thomas is something nobody would ever assume he’d be.