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O’Neil: Seahawks deserve credit for how they steered clear of drama with Earl Thomas

Earl Thomas, who left the Seahawks after 2018, has been released by the Ravens. (AP)

I’m not sure if Seahawks coach Pete Carroll deserves credit for keeping Earl Thomas from going sideways with his teammates in Seattle or general manager John Schneider should be applauded for steering clear of the drama that Thomas brought to Baltimore.

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It’s probably a little bit of both, but I can’t look at the sudden (and incredibly costly) end to Thomas’ time in Baltimore without thinking the Seahawks dodged a bullet.

Baltimore paid Thomas $22 million in 2019 in the first of what was supposed to be four years. They terminated his contract on Sunday, two days after Thomas fought with a teammate, and Baltimore is clearly going to try and avoid paying Thomas the other $10 million they guaranteed Thomas by saying the safety was released for conduct detrimental to the team. But even if the Ravens avoid paying Thomas another $10 million, this is a Super Bowl contender that let go of a starting safety three weeks before the start of the season. It’s an absolute mess, which has landed squarely in someone else’s lap.

Teams rarely get credited for the deals they don’t do, but the Seahawks deserve at least a head nod of acknowledgment in this case. After all, there were plenty of people who thought Seattle made a mistake in letting Thomas leave.

Not that his departure was any sort of shock. Thomas left Seattle as a free agent in 2019, ending more than a year’s worth of tension with the free safety, which included, in order:

Dec. 24, 2017: Thomas went into the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room after Seattle’s victory, telling Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, “If you get a chance, come get me.” He did this in front of reporters who recorded the interaction.

August 2018: He held out for Seattle’s training camp because he wanted an extension. He reported in the week before the season opener, posting on Instagram that, “The disrespect is well noted and will not be forgotten.”

Sept. 23, 2018: Thomas did not practice twice leading up to a Week 3 matchup with Dallas. After Seattle’s 24-13 victory over Dallas – a game in which Thomas picked off two passes – he told reporters, “If they were invested in me, I would be out there practicing. But if I feel like if I have anything, even if it’s something small, if I got a headache, I’m not practicing. But I don’t want that to be taken the wrong way.” Uhhh, I don’t know if there’s a right way to take that, Earl.

Sept. 30, 2018: Thomas suffered an injury in Seattle’s Week 4 win at Arizona, re-injuring the leg that was broken in 2017. As he was carted off, he raised a middle finger toward the Seahawks sideline, later clarifying that it was directed at Carroll.

There wasn’t much hope of salvaging that situation, and the only surprise about Thomas’ departure in free agency was that Tyrann Mathieu agreed to contract terms with the Chiefs before Thomas got a deal, which was for four years with Baltimore.

Thomas wasn’t exactly bad last season. He played in 15 games, picked off two passes, and the Ravens went 14-2. But he argued with teammate Brandon Williams, a defensive lineman, after Thomas questioned the big man about an injury. Then there were also two runs in which Thomas’ effort was less than ideal as he pulled up on a long touchdown run by the Browns’ <strike>Brandon</strike> Nick Chubb and in the playoffs was spun around and shoved in the back by Titans battering ram Derrick Henry.

And now Thomas is gone. In a best-case scenario, the Ravens paid Thomas $22 million for one season of work, and he will still count $10 million against their salary cap in 2021 when he’s not on the roster. In the worst-case scenario, they’re going to have to pay him another $10 million for this year when he won’t play a down for them.

Maybe it would have worked out differently if Seattle had chosen to extend Thomas in the same way it did Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. Maybe he would have remained a cornerstone to the defense. Thomas was always an intense teammate in Seattle, someone who once yelled at defensive lineman Cliff Avril for eating sunflower seeds during a walk-through. He may have been too honest in his assessment of a teammate’s injury when he talked about Wagner sticking it out too long after a blowout loss to the Rams, too, but there was never any sign of the kind of tension that built up in Baltimore.

Maybe Carroll deserves some credit for that. Or maybe Schneider should be applauded for steering clear of the problem that Thomas evidently became in Baltimore. Either way, it’s not Seattle’s problem now.

Follow Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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