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O’Neil: As long as Earl Thomas shows up on Sundays, Seahawks likely to keep him around

Earl Thomas bowed in front of the Cowboys' bench after his second interception in Week 3. (AP)

The more I think about what Earl Thomas said after Sunday’s game, the more I think it’s untenable to keep him on the team for another three months.

But the more I think about the kinds of things that the Seahawks have put up with, the more I think they will keep him on the team all season provided he plays like he did on Sunday.

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Nine years have shown us that Pete Carroll is willing to look past things that another coach would deem a dealbreaker. That’s not a criticism or a commentary, but a statement of fact.

Think about what Carroll says about players who are holding out. He expresses his affection for the player, maybe even a little sympathy for the player’s financial desires, and tops it off with the hope that the player will be back soon. That’s what Carroll did during Kam Chancellor’s holdout in 2015, a process that was repeated when Earl Thomas sat out training camp this year. In fact, when Marshawn Lynch wore Chancellor’s jersey for a practice during Chancellor’s 2015 holdout, the team posted the picture on the Instagram account.

Carroll tolerates public dissent in a way that few – if any – NFL coaches do. That has led some to conclude that he cedes too much control to his players, enabling players to demonstrate the kind of defiance that Thomas is currently showing. But there is a benefit to the Seahawks that no one talks about. Carroll doesn’t bench players who are excelling on the field to prove a point off of it let alone trade them. If an NFL coach is willing to look past a little bit of defiance during the week you can still get a hell of a player on Sundays.

Richard Sherman shouted at the offensive coordinator about a playcall during a game, spelled out those objections in the locker room after the game, and then – six days later – repeated those objections during a press conference despite the fact Sherman had told Carroll he was going to apologize for what he’d said. Sherman didn’t miss a down, and as long as Thomas plays the way he did on Sunday, I don’t think he’ll miss a down, either.

The commitment on Sundays is the one non-negotiable, a point underscored by the fact that the one star the team did jettison midseason was a guy whose in-game commitment came into question. That was Percy Harvin, and his season and a half in Seattle was remarkable for the sheer amount of drama generated by a player who was paid $18 million for eight total games, six of the regular-season variety and two in the playoffs.

Harvin underwent hip surgery before he ever played a down, returned to the field to face his former team in Minnesota before sitting out the next five weeks. Harvin scrapped with Golden Tate during a practice prior to the Super Bowl against Denver, where he returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown. Harvin also got into a full-fledged fist fight with Doug Baldwin in the week leading up to the team’s final preseason game in 2014.

But the Seahawks didn’t reach their breaking point until the fifth game of the following season when Harvin was unavailable for significant chunks of a fourth-quarter loss to Dallas, including the Seahawks’ final drive. Bryan Walters took his spot and Harvin never returned to the field for the Seahawks, getting traded five days later as the Seahawks were departing for a road game against the Rams.

Can Carroll look past a player who doesn’t practice? Well, he did for years.

Lynch regularly took days off from practice for years. Same for Michael Bennett. Now there are two important differences:

• Their absences were attributed to underlying injuries as opposed to their level of happiness.
• Neither player talked about their rationale for not practicing let alone attributing the absence from practice to their current contract.

The fact that Thomas not only sat out practice but then stated he would have been practicing if he had a contract extension frames this as a public staredown, and the assumption is that the Seahawks are either going to blink – and give him the contract he wants – or trade him.

Well, I know the Seahawks aren’t going to give him what he wants in terms of a contract, but I don’t think they’re going to trade him to prove a point, either. Not as long as he plays like he did on Sunday.

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