It has been more than a week since the Ravens gave Earl Thomas his outright release and no NFL team has picked him up as of this morning. That is the sort of thing that makes me stop and shake my head and wonder what is going on here. Let me do a quick reset here:
- Earl Thomas is 31 years old; he has been in the NFL for 10 seasons. He has been selected for the Pro Bowl 7 times and has been named first team All-Pro 3 times. Those are the sort of stats that orient a player toward Canton, OH.
- Thomas was an integral part of the Seattle defense known as The Legion of Boom as the free safety. He was the starting free safety on the Seattle team that won the Super Bowl.
- There was a falling out in Seattle over contract matters and Thomas ended his days in Seattle being carted off the field with a broken leg and flipping the bird at his bench on the way out early in the 2018 season.
- He signed on with the Ravens last year and had a Pro Bowl season.
- In training camp about 10 days ago, he got into a fistfight with a teammate, Chuck Clark, and was sent off the field. Reportedly, the Ravens’ Leadership Council let it be known that they thought Thomas was “a problem” and took Clark’s side in the fight.
- Coach John Harbaugh took that counsel and released Earl Thomas.
When that story broke more than a week ago, it was unusual on a standalone basis. Thomas is not nearly a youngster in NFL terms, but he made the Pro Bowl just last year which would indicate to me that whatever toll the leg injury in 2018 may have taken, he still has miles left on the tires. Yet, the Ravens’ Leadership Council and the Ravens’ coaching staff chose to release him outright than try to put the pieces back together.
Just a few weeks ago, another top-shelf safety, Jamal Adams, had a falling out with his team (the Jets) and forced the team to trade him. In return, Adams brought two first-round picks, a third-round pick and a replacement safety that many feel is in the “good-but-not-great category”. Even with that “setting of the market” for a top-shelf safety, the Ravens made no attempt to trade Earl Thomas; they just jettisoned him.
The reporters covering the story seemingly took sides in the matter too. Clark was described as “mild-mannered”; Thomas was “churlish”. One report had it that Thomas was aloof and not really a part of the defensive unit and that the rest of the players on the defense thought he did too much freelancing outside the limits of the defensive scheme. Even if all of that is absolutely correct, Thomas still was a Pro Bowl caliber defender just last season in that defensive scheme.
At that point, I thought that there must be something strange going on inside the Ravens’ organization and this was the coaching staff trying to make sure that whatever it is that is ongoing gets stopped before it gets out of hand. I figured that we would never know about the details until Earl Thomas retired and either went to the broadcast booth or wrote a book about his days in the NFL. So, I filed all of this in the back of my brain as a “Mysterious Situation”.
However, this morning Earl Thomas remains unsigned; 31 other NFL teams have – in practical terms – taken a pass on him since he was released on August 23rd.
- Thomas is from Texas and has said openly and often that he would like to play for the Cowboys. The Cowboys’ secondary was not a team strength last season. Jerry Jones has never been one to shy away from players who have “issues” (assuming that is what put Thomas on the free agent market). And Thomas remains unsigned…
- The Chargers just lost their All-Pro safety, Derwin James, to a knee injury that will keep him off the field for the 2020 season. And Thomas remains unsigned…
- The Jets traded away an outstanding safety and got what most folks consider a “lesser replacement”. And Thomas remains unsigned …
Now, it seems to me that there is more to this matter than a training camp fight and some internal strangeness regarding the Baltimore Ravens. It is virtually certain that Thomas will pursue a grievance against the Ravens if they move to claw back any of the guaranteed money in his contract with the Ravens as the team might do citing his release being based on “conduct detrimental to the team”. But that is “lawyer stuff” and not “gameday stuff”. It just does not seem to me that is a big enough obstacle to keep Thomas on the outside of the NFL looking in.
About 10 years ago, Mazda had an ad campaign where the TV spots ended with a kid standing on the side of the road as the car flashed by and the kid muttered “Something’s up…” If the Earl Thomas situation needs a visual as of today, I think that kid’s assessment of the situation is spot on. Something’s up – – and I have no idea what it is.
As you might expect, Dwight Perry had something to say about all this in the Seattle Times:
“The Ravens cut Earl Thomas loose after he punched a teammate during practice.
“In other words, they simply converted him into a different kind of free safety.”
Finally, since I mentioned that Earl Thomas’ final public action with the Seahawks was his flipping the bird at the team bench as he was wheeled off the field with a broken leg, I want to close today with a pertinent definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“Finger, The: Something you give to other human beings when you cannot find the right words to say exactly how much their very existence has so deeply impacted your life.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………