Why the Seahawk showed his true feelings as he was carted away
October 4, 2018
If you have paid an ounce of attention to the NFL over the past few seasons, you may have noticed the league is undergoing a tumultuous period of holdouts and contract disputes. Last Sunday may have been the icing on the cake.
Earl Thomas III, Seattle Seahawks veteran safety and member of the now-disbanded Legion of Boom, suffered a season-ending broken leg during the team’s 20-17 win over Arizona. Although devastating to Thomas and the entire Seattle organization, the injury was not the biggest shock of the moment. As he was carted off the field, Thomas turned, extended his arm and flipped the bird to the sidelines. But not to the opponent who had just delivered his injury. Thomas instead aimed the gesture directly toward his own team.
Viewers, including Seattle fans like myself, immediately wondered, “What the hell was that?”
In the NFL, where players are exposed to more catastrophic injuries than any other sport, incidents like this are usually cause for a team to rally around their fallen comrade and resume play with even more tenacity to win than before.
So why would Thomas gesture so obscenely and inappropriately toward the team—and essentially the city—which he has called home for the entirety of his NFL tenure?
The answer extends back to well before the 2018-2019 season began.
This year was set to be Thomas’ ninth in Seattle’s blue and green. It began, however, with the veteran holding out the entire duration of the preseason as he entered the final year of his four-year, $40 million contract. At 29 years old and a member of the championship team that defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, Thomas aimed to earn a healthy contract extension or at least be traded to a team who would honor that request.
His hold-out was emulated by other star players, including Rams’ defensive lineman Aaron Donald, whose refusal to step on the field this preseason resulted in a six-year, $135 million deal—the record for a non-quarterback. Shortly thereafter, the Oakland Raiders traded another holdout, Khalil Mack, to the Chicago Bears—who immediately offered the pass rusher a six-year, $141 million contract.
In a letter written to The Players’ Tribune back in early August titled “Here’s What’s Actually Going On,” Thomas—who describes himself as quiet and usually unwilling to speak out about matters publicly—spelled out exactly why he decided to not attend training camp prior to the season.
“If you’re risking your body to deliver all of this value to an organization, then you deserve some sort of assurance that the organization will take care of you if you get hurt,” Thomas wrote. “It’s that simple. This isn’t new, and this isn’t complicated. It’s the reason I’m holding out—I want to be able to give my everything, on every play, without any doubt in my mind.”
Reiterating that he loves the city in which he has grown to be a six-time Pro Bowl defensive back, he goes on to say that if it were up to him, he would stay indefinitely. Yet Thomas also points out the realistic nature of the NFL: it is a business. And, in order to protect his own well-being, Thomas sought assurance that his team would commit to providing him a deserved extension. A trade, to him an unfavorable scenario, would at least give him the chance to find a safety net elsewhere.
So, in this era of hold-out-and-you-shall-receive, what had Earl Thomas—arguably the best safety in the league—been promised by the time he returned on Sept. 5? Nothing.
That’s what makes the safety’s gruesome injury on Sunday so painful.
Instead of having the opportunity to negotiate a renewed contract as a 29-year-old safety who has played in all but a few games throughout his career, Thomas will now be a 30-year-old returning from missing an entire season due to a severe injury. So, for everyone who was taken aback by Thomas aiming his displeasure toward his own bench, it is important to understand fully the implications of what really happened.
There’s no doubt Thomas’ next contract will likely be diminished from what it probably should have been. Seattle’s reputation (and the rest of the league, for that matter), however, will be the one taking the hardest hit.
Contact John Brussa at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.