It’s easy to connect the two dots and say, as many do, that Earl Thomas is under contract thus he has an obligation to be at all mandatory Seahawks events.
That includes training camp that begins in 2 1/2 weeks. The three-time All-Pro safety may be for the start of camp what he’s been for every other team event since Seattle last played a game seven months ago: absent. Thomas is protesting not having a new deal beyond his that ends after 2018.
On Monday, Bobby Wagner outlined why he and some of Thomas’ teammates don’t blame him for skipping out on the Seahawks so far.
Seattle’s All-Pro linebacker was on KJR-AM radio Monday as a guest of new late-morning co-host Cliff Avril. Avril was Wagner’s and Thomas’ teammate until Avril’s career-ending neck injury in October, and his decision in May to stop playing.
Wagner said he understands if the 29-year-old Thomas continues his principled stance of staying away from training camp that begins with players’ reporting day July 26, staying away until he gets top dollar on a new Seahawks deal.
Such is life for players under the NFL’s non-guaranteed contracts.
“You’ve got to do what’s right for you,” Wagner told KJR. “Because at the end of the day, whenever you are done they don’t care about you. You’ve got to get what you’ve got to get while you can. Because as soon as you can’t play... “
“As soon as you get hurt,” Avril interjected.
“Yeah,” Wagner responded. “As soon as you can’t play and they don’t want you no more, it’s over. So you’ve got to make the best of your opportunity.”
This could be Thomas’ last one to get top-of-the-league money, a deal with tens of millions in guaranteed cash for many years to come.
Thomas will turn 30 five months after the 2018 season ends. Any new contract he’ll be even remotely interested in signing, from the Seahawks or anyone else, is likely to be at least three years. That is so his signing team can prorate the bonus money across multiple years, to make that sum more friendly to its salary cap up front.
Such a deal would take Thomas to his 33rd birthday. No matter how well he continues to play between now and then, no team is going to give him, say, the $13 million per year with $40 million guaranteed on which Thomas has his eyes now. That’s the deal his 2010 draft classmate Eric Berry got from Kansas City last year.
Thomas said last August: “I saw Eric Berry get that huge deal. There ain’t never enough of that.”
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Heck, no team may want to give Thomas Berry-like money now. And that’s with Thomas at age 29 and coming off his sixth Pro Bowl. The team that drafted Thomas and has had him starting and starring for it the last eight years doesn’t want to. At least it hasn’t yet, or else Thomas would have signed such a new deal with the Seahawks by now.
So, yes, Wagner and Avril agree Thomas better make his stand now for potentially his last big cash, training camp be darned.
“I agree,” Avril said. “I think even with (Earl’s) situation, I get asked the question, as well. And I think--you know, as a former player, or whatever--I think that’s the right approach. For us, we understand it’s a business. We understand, obviously, we want Earl out there. He’s one of the best safeties in the league. Obviously, you need him in the locker room.
“But at the same time, as a friend, as a person that understands the business, you have to capitalize as many times as possible. Because, you (Wagner) just said, right: Once you get hurt, once your play goes down, all these different things, the team has full (leverage). They can let you go, and you don’t see the rest of that money.
“So when you are... the best thing out there, you know, you better capitalize as much as possible.”
Last month, on the first of the three days of mandatory minicamp Thomas skipped at the risk of an $84,000 team fine, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was asked if he expected Thomas to be with the team for the season opener Sept. 9 at Denver.
“We’ll see,” the coach said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Carroll also said on June 12 he last talked to Thomas “a couple weeks ago.” That was before Thomas decreed with an online letter in early June he would remain away from “any team activities until my contract situation is resolved.”
Wagner said he and Thomas are cool with each other, and have been for months. That’s after Thomas saying Wagner should not have played injured and noticeably diminished in Seattle’s decisive home loss to the Rams in December that allowed Los Angeles to end the Seahawks’ reign of the NFC West. Wagner fired back at Thomas on Twitter that lost Sunday.
Wagner said he regularly trades text messages with Thomas, and that the December spat was nothing more than two competitors venting.
Wagner, 28, and quarterback Russell Wilson clearly have become the pillars of these transitioning Seahawks. The two stars became Seattle’s foundational players on each side of the ball for beyond 2018 three years ago. That was when the team, in a span of four days in the summer of 2015, gave Wagner and Wilson a combined $130.6 million in contract extensions. Their deals end after 2019.
Wagner will be in a similar situation next summer that Thomas is in now: A multiple-time All-Pro on Seattle’s defense who will be turning 29 before training camp. He will be entering the final year of his deal that, like Thomas’ was a when he signed his $40 million extension four years ago, was among the top of the league’s salaries at his position.
Wagner was asked by KJR co-host Jason Puckett Monday if he feels Thomas will be back with the team for the start of training camp.
“I mean, I don’t know. It’s up to him and management to figure that out,” Wagner said. “You don’t want to get into a person’s contract. .... At the end of the day, they are trying to figure out a way to best provide for their family.
“You are involved, to a certain extent, but he’s trying to take care of his family. And you want him to put himself in the best position to take care of his family. So whatever that looks like, whatever that is, that’s between him and the management.
“Do I hope comes? I do. I hope he comes. But I’m not necessarily focused on that, because I understand both sides. I understand wanting him here. And I understand the business aspect, which is not good for players. Like, we have contracts that don’t necessarily favor us all the time.
“So you have to do what’s right for you.”