You hear that? That’s the sound of 31 other teams banging their heads against the wall in frustration over losing out on a chance to sign the best free safety in the game after the 2014 season. I don’t care WHO these other teams have at that position, deep down in their hearts, every single team would rather have Earl Thomas manning that position.
4 years, $40 million. The benchmark for all safety contracts in the history of the NFL. Earl Thomas may or may not be the greatest of all time, but he’s certainly being paid like he is.
A lot of people like to doubt the Seahawks. Truth be told, we’re unconventional in the way we build our team. We took a too-short quarterback in the third round and gave him a legitimate shot to win the starting job … and then he went out and won it! We took a troubled running back off of Buffalo’s hands and watched him blossom into one of the best two or three running backs in the game. We dedicated our whole offensive scheme around running the ball, controlling the clock, and limiting turnovers in an era that’s evolving rapidly into a pass-first, Arena League-type system. We built the best defense in the game largely around players most other teams either didn’t want, or undervalued.
Take a look at that last statement again, and think about the players who’ve made the biggest impact in the last few years:
- Chris Clemons was received in trade for an underwhelming lineman, after the Eagles gave up on him
- Bobby Wagner was a second round pick from a small school
- Kam Chancellor & Richard Sherman were both fifth round picks, deemed too big & too slow to play their respective positions
- K.J. Wright was a fourth rounder; Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith was a seventh rounder
- The Seahawks were killed for drafting Bruce Irvin in the first round; he went on to lead all rookies in sacks before converting to strong-side linebacker
- Red Bryant was a defensive tackle converted to 5-technique defensive end
Hell, even Earl Thomas – a first rounder – wasn’t the first safety taken in that draft class! I don’t think anyone doubted Earl’s abilities to be a potentially elite safety, but the vast majority agreed with the Chiefs in their opinion that Eric Berry was the cream of that draft class at the position.
Oh yes, even the Chiefs would rather have Earl Thomas right about now.
People doubting the Seahawks didn’t just stop with the defense. We were doubted by the public at large in the Super Bowl; there was NO WAY we’d hold the greatest offense of all time down for very long! And, then, when we did, the argument shifted to: there’s NO WAY the Seahawks will be a dynasty.
It’s too difficult! They’ll lose too many players. THERE’S NO WAY THE SEAHAWKS WILL BE ABLE TO KEEP ALL THEIR ELITE STARS!
Well, the first domino to fall is Earl Thomas. Actually, the first domino was Michael Bennett, but from a national perspective, this extension dwarfs Bennett by a large margin. This offseason saw an increase in the NFL salary cap, which in turn saw a lot of teams go hog-wild with their spending. As expected, the Seahawks were up against it a little bit, which is why we had to let guys like Clemons & Bryant go (ditto Sidney Rice, who we eventually re-signed to a much friendlier deal). That opened up miles of cap room we could have used to sign any number of free agents out on the market. However, we stayed strong and held firm to our convictions; we had a plan:
- Extend Earl Thomas
- Extend Richard Sherman
- Set things up so we’re able to extend Russell Wilson next year
- Hopefully have enough room to extend one or more of our quality linebackers next year
Now, if we could do all of that AND sign someone like Jared Allen for a song, more power to us. It didn’t work out that way, and that’s okay. We’re still set up well to achieve all of our personnel goals. The Seahawks ARE going to extend Richard Sherman, they ARE going to keep Russell Wilson long term. And it’s NOT going to cripple us financially.
With future rises in salary cap, it’ll help mitigate some of the additional cost. In addition, you’re talking about one of the smarter front offices in the league; we’ll find a way to fill out this roster with quality players on the cheap at other positions. Maybe that means restructuring or cutting ties with Marshawn Lynch after this year. Maybe that means finding Russell Okung’s replacement sooner rather than later. Maybe that means replenishing the linebacking corps via the draft every few years.
As it stands, there are no bad deals on this roster right now. The only thing that comes close is Percy Harvin, but we still have an out with him after another couple seasons. Cap Hell isn’t in this franchise’s vocabulary. By this time next year, we’re going to have the highest paid safety, the highest paid cornerback, one of the top five highest paid quarterbacks, and one of the top five highest paid wide receivers … AND WE’RE STILL GOING TO BE ONE OF THE BEST TEAMS IN FOOTBALL!
This isn’t the Dallas Cowboys. This isn’t the Washington Redskins. We’re talking about the elite of the elite. In that realm with the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Baltimore Ravens. Where their down years still find them at .500 and their great years find them as champions.
Russell Wilson is the key to the whole thing, but if he’s #1a, Earl Thomas is #1b. Earl Thomas makes this defense go. He’s the leader, the heart, the soul of this team. He makes everyone around him better, and that’s exactly what you expect out of someone making the most money at his position. It’s not about the numbers with Earl, it’s about the W. Don’t count the interceptions, don’t add up the points allowed as a unit; just count up the wins. THAT’S where you find Earl’s value. THAT’S what makes him worth every penny.
Oh yeah, and a week from tomorrow, he’ll be turning 25. Best safety in football AND he’s got another decade-plus to go. You know you want it …