SEATTLE – The Earl Thomas saga raised some questions about what happened with Thomas and the Seahawks and what happens now. So here’s an attempt to answer all of the most relevant Thomas-related questions following his injury Sunday.
So what happens now with Thomas?
Thomas, who suffered a broken left tibia in the fourth quarter of a 20-17 win at Arizona, was officially placed on Injured Reserve on Tuesday.
That means he has to be out at least eight games – teams can recall two players per year off of IR if they are placed on the list after the formation of the initial 53-man roster.
But logically, Thomas is done for the season, though one report stated he’d be healthy by the Super Bowl.
Being placed on IR means Thomas will get the remainder of his $8.5 million salary for this season.
His contract runs out after the 2018 season, meaning he will then become an unrestricted free agent (officially, when the new league year begins on March 13, 2019) unless he has a new deal with the Seahawks or the team has placed a Franchise Tag on him.
What Thomas will be worth on the open market is hard to gauge since coming off another significant injury – one reason Thomas undoubtedly was frustrated leaving the field – and his age (he turns 30 next May).
Could the Seahawks still re-sign Thomas?
Yes, they theoretically could at any time. But by all accounts, the Seahawks never offered Thomas an extension prior to his injury and it’s hard to envision that happening now – or that Thomas would agree to one that’s anything shy of the kind of blockbuster deal he wants. If the team intended to grant him that large a deal, it would have done so a long time ago.
Could the Seahawks still trade him?
They technically could despite Tuesday’s move to put Thomas on IR. The NFL changed a rule last March that now allows teams to trade players who are on IR.
But obviously no one thinks that would happen now because of his injury.
The Seahawks were rumored over the weekend to have been in extensive talks with the Chiefs, with an NFL Network report stating Seattle was willing to accept a lone second-round pick for Thomas even though it had previously wanted two second-rounders.
One thought is that Seattle’s asking price would lessen as more games were played, and that the Seahawks might also be more willing to trade Thomas as they began to assess where they stood in the playoff hunt. (Seattle could be three games out of the NFC West division race if it loses to the Rams on Sunday).
For what it’s worth, the trade deadline is Oct. 30.
Would the Seahawks consider placing a franchise tag on Thomas for 2019?
That already seemed unlikely before Thomas’ injury and it’s hard to imagine it happening now.
But as a refresher, NFL teams can place franchise tags on one pending free agent. (The period to do so next year is Feb. 19-March 5.)
That means the player gets a salary for the 2019 season that is the average of the top five at his position in the NFL, or 120 percent of the player’s cap number from the previous season.
In Thomas’ case, that means he’d get at least $12.5 million in 2019, which would all go straight on the Seahawks’ 2019 salary cap.
Given that the Seahawks already didn’t want to keep Thomas around at a significant salary and that now he would be coming off another injury at age 30, it’s hard to see this happening.
Will Seattle get any compensation if he signs elsewhere?
Maybe. The NFL has a rather complicated system in place to compensate teams who have a net loss of unrestricted free agents (which is a key phrase here and means players whose contracts have lapsed and not players who have been released) who sign elsewhere compared to those they have signed.
Thomas would likely qualify as netting a third-round pick as compensation. But that’s only if Seattle’s other free-agent moves didn’t cancel that out. That appears to be the case this year when the players the Seahawks signed (such as Ed Dickson and Jaron Brown) canceled out those who signed elsewhere, such as Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson. Seattle isn’t projected to get any comp picks for 2019 (32 are awarded each year). Seattle could have a lot of cap room to spend money on free agents in 2019 so there’s no certainty the Seahawks will have a net loss of free agents.
But the comp pick formula undoubtedly helped frame what Seattle considered as Thomas’ trade value last spring when it first began talking to other teams.
Did Seattle blow it by not trading him earlier?
Hindsight being 20-20, that’s going to be a popular take. But no one could have predicted an injury, and as noted, indications are that Seattle appeared to be biding its time, getting what it could out of Thomas while also continuing to survey the market as well to assess what it could make out of the 2018 season.
But yes, the legacy of this could be that Seattle dangled Thomas in trade talks for months only to have him get hurt right when it may have made the most sense to pull the trigger (and yep, you can make the same case when it comes to how Seattle handled Richard Sherman).
Why didn’t the Seahawks sign him to an extension long ago?
In one sense, Thomas had decent timing in his Seattle career.
He was drafted in 2010, the year before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement put limits on rookie contracts, and signed an initial five-year deal worth $18.3 million on April 22, 2010. (Had Thomas been taken in the same spot, 14th overall, a year later he would have received just $9.4 million over four seasons.)
He then signed a four-year extension worth $40 million in April, 2014, in the wake of the Super Bowl that carried him through the 2018 season.
In that sense, his timing could have been a little better.
Had Thomas’ contract run out in 2017, perhaps the team would have signed him to a third contract heading into last season as it did with Kam Chancellor (and as it did with Michael Bennett the previous December).
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