O’Neil: Seahawks being right not to extend Earl Thomas doesn’t make injury any less sad
Football is a dangerous game.
It’s an unflinchingly brutal business.
That was laid bare as Earl Thomas left the field with his left leg in an air-cast and his middle finger extended in the direction of Seattle’s bench on Sunday.
It was incredibly sad not just because he’s the third Seahawks defensive back to suffer a season-ending injury at that very stadium in the past 12 months. It was sad because this was exactly the kind of injury that precipitated Thomas’ demand for a contract extension.
I don’t blame Thomas for being not just devastated, but more than a little angry.
But I also don’t blame the Seahawks for their decision not to meet Thomas’ financial demands, and really, that’s the rub.
Seattle played this thing the way an NFL team is supposed to. The Seahawks made the right business decision here, though it feels pretty heartless to say that considering it leaves one of the best players in this franchise’s history feeling like a tube of toothpaste that has been squeezed for absolutely everything he’s worth (which in this case is some $50 million for nine seasons).
But in a salary-capped league like the NFL, this is undeniably good business. One of the dirty little realities about this season that we don’t talk about is that a significant amount of Seattle’s salary-cap space is being consumed by Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett, whose contracts were extended but are no longer on the team. A similar situation happened with Marshawn Lynch in 2016.
So while you can accurately say that this kind of injury is exactly why Thomas wanted an extension, it’s also true that this kind of injury is exactly why an NFL team isn’t always eager to do so.
This game asks a lot of its players, not the least of which is the risk to their actual bodies. Just ask cornerback Richard Sherman, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in Arizona last year and was released in the offseason. Or Chancellor, who was diagnosed with a career-ending condition after that game in Arizona last year. Or Thomas, who has now broken his lower left leg twice in the past 22 months.
But it’s more than just the physical risk. They’re asked to silently accept the financial decisions that their employers make about their future or risk being called ungrateful, spiteful or any of the handful of adjectives that have been hung on Thomas either during his holdout or over his practice schedule or now how he left the field after being injured.
But while I think the Seahawks made the right decision, I can’t bring myself to fake the indignation necessary to criticize Thomas. He has given too much of his body not just to this game but to this franchise specifically and this city in general for me to feel anything other than sad that this is the way his time with the team will likely end.