As great as linebacker Bobby Wagner has become, Earl Thomas is still the linchpin of this defense. Supplant him with an average safety, and the D becomes average, too.

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There’s no need to close your eyes and imagine in this case. You’ve already seen what it looks like.

The Seahawks’ defense without Earl Thomas? It’s akin to a soccer team pulling its goalie.

There has been speculation Seattle might want to trade the free safety — speculation that ramped up last week when Thomas said he’d hold out until receiving a satisfactory contract extension.

But come on — the Seahawks need to keep him. In the words of Teddy KGB: “Pay him. Pay that man his money.”

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A 9-7 season has spawned thought that the Seahawks are in need of a rebuild. Compounding this is the fact that Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett might never play another down for Seattle.

And though no oddsmaker will tout the Seahawks as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl next year, this team still has championship pieces.

The Seahawks have four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson, a 29-year-old whose contract runs through 2019. They have the league’s best middle linebacker in Bobby Wagner, whose contract also runs through 2019.

They’ve got K.J. Wright and Doug Baldwin coming back, and most likely Richard Sherman, too. This team can still win. Really. But only if Earl is roaming the back end.

The worry is that making the 29-year-old Thomas the NFL’s highest-paid safety — which is the only way to get him to sign — would haunt the Seahawks as he ages. They did, after all, give lucrative extensions to Chancellor and Bennett last offseason.

And if Thomas were simply one of the five or six best safeties in league, unloading him would be the prudent move. But we’re talking about the greatest safety of his generation with at least a couple of prime years left.

You can’t just replace him with a random player and expect the rest of the D to compensate. After Thomas broke his leg in Week 13 two years ago, the Seahawks were torched by the Packers and Cardinals, who put up 38 and 34 points, respectively. And last year, they managed to lose a home game vs. Washington when Thomas sat out with a knee injury.

Great as Wagner has become, Earl is still the linchpin of this defense. Supplant him with an average safety, and the D becomes average, too.

Of course, there is the idea that trading Thomas could net some draft picks, which the front office could use to replenish the roster. Good plan in theory … but have you seen the Seahawks’ past five drafts?

No position player from any of those classes has made the Pro Bowl. Their first pick last year, Malik McDowell, has never played a game. Their first pick from the year before, Germain Ifedi, led the league in penalties last season.

They say drafting is a crapshoot, but for the Seahawks lately, well … take away the “shoot.”

Sorry, but from a pure football standpoint, it makes no sense to deal Thomas away. Perhaps some are concerned that he’d cause tension in the locker room, but I doubt he’d be distracting.

Thomas isn’t malicious. His heart just pumps truth serum. He wasn’t trying to cause friction when he said Wagner was too injured to play in the loss to the Rams. Nor was he ill-intended when he told Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to “Come get me” after the win in Dallas.

Earl’s reclusive nature won’t win him any Teammate of the Year awards. But come game time, he’ll always have himself prepared and opponents scared.

So make it happen, Seahawks. It doesn’t have to be a six-year deal or anything.

Just make Thomas happy with a big number, front load that guaranteed money and give yourselves an out in three or four years if his performance tails off. I have a feeling it won’t, though.

Wilson might be the most valuable player on this team, but Thomas is the best. He’s a future Hall of Famer whose value is difficult to overstate. You don’t just give away a player of his caliber when you’re still in a position to contend.

So pay him. Soon. It will be a lot more costly if you don’t.