Something’s Up …

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………



Never Ascribe To Malice …

Over the past several months, I have not been paying much attention to the NFL in general because the other sports were maneuvering to get on the field before the NFL was scheduled to do so.  And when I focused on the NFL, I must admit that I spent most of the time looking at three issues:

  1. Can the NFL play its games in such a way as to avoid massive COVID-19 outbursts?
  2. How will the Bucs fare now that Tom Brady is their QB – – and how will the Pats fare now that Tom Brady is not their QB?
  3. WTF is going on with the Washington Football Team?

Until about 48 hours ago, I had not recognized that there is an NFL franchise that has been systematically tearing itself down for the past couple of years and seems to have finished the demolition about now.  I am referring to the Jacksonville Jaguars so let me do a reset here:

  • At the end of the 2017 season, the Jags led the Patriots by two scores in the 4th quarter of the AFC Championship Game with Blake Bortles as their QB.  They lost that game.
  • That team was obviously built around a really good and young defensive unit.
  • There were 5 Pro Bowl players on that defensive unit.
  • Over the next two seasons, the Jags finished dead last in the AFC South twice and their combined record for 2018 and 2019 was 11-21-0.

The Jags moved on from Blake Bortles – – but they overpaid for Nick Foles and subsequently sent him off to the Bears to cast their fate with Gardner Minshew.  The jury is out on Minshew, but he certainly has a realistic shot at being more productive than Bortles was.  That is the good news for Jags’ fans.  The rest of the news is a list of head-scratching moves that have dismantled that defense that got the team within about 10 minutes of a Super Bowl appearance.

  • A.J. Bouye was traded to the Broncos for a 4th round draft pick. Bouye had been a Pro Bowl CB and was only 28 years old at the time of the trade.
  • Calais Campbell was traded to the Ravens for a 5th round draft pick.  Campbell has been to the Pro Bowl 5 times; he was the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2019; his birthday is today – he is 34 years old.
  • Malik Jackson was released; he signed with the Eagles as a free agent.  Jackson was 29 years old when released and he had been to the Pro Bowl in his career.
  • Yannick Ngakoue was traded to the Vikings last week for a 2nd round draft pick and a conditional 5th round pick.  Ngakoue is only 25 years old and has been named to the Pro Bowl.  [Aside:  Rather than play for Jax as the franchise player at a guaranteed salary of $17.8M in 2020, he signed a one-year deal with the Vikings for $12M.  Really…]
  • Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Rams for two 1st round picks and a 4th round pick.  Ramsey was 25 years old at the time of his trade and he has been to the Pro Bowl 3 times already in his career.

That is an impressive amount of talent that has been jettisoned by the Jags or has forced the Jags to trade them away.  If I have counted correctly, there are only 12 players left on the current roster who were on the roster when the Jags were in that Conference Championship
Game in January 2018.

I guess the braintrust in Jax did not want the offensive unit to feel too comfortable and so the Jags simply waived Leonard Fournette yesterday.  Fournette has been a head case but he gained almost 1200 yards on the ground for the Jags last year.  He is only 25 years old; he was the overall #4 pick in the Draft the year he came out of college; he has averaged 4 yards per carry in his NFL career.

It was fashionable to blame Tom Coughlin for the discord in Jax.  Coughlin is clearly an old-school guy and the narrative was that he clashed with “today’s young athletes”.  OK, even if I grant that to be absolutely the case, Coughlin was fired last December but the team traded Campbell, Ngakoue after that firing and released Fournette just yesterday.  Those three moves do not fit the narrative very well.  Coach Doug Marrone said that they tried to trade Fournette but could not get anything from anyone in a trade deal.  That may be true, but I will not be surprised to see teams get interested in signing Fournette now that he has been waived.

There is an aphorism that may be in play here:

  • Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

“Malice” here might be an unstated plan by the Jags to stink out the joint in 2020 to be in a position to draft Trevor Lawrence next Spring.  We have heard of teams that would “Suck for Luck” or “Tank for Tua”; it is not beyond possible for that to happen in Jax.  However, I am cautious about the existence of such a “plan” because the jags have had a notoriously difficult time engaging its fanbase for quite a while now.  From 2011 to 2019, the Jags have finished above .500 only once – – that year they went to the Conference Championship Game and choked away a win there.  It is not easy for me to accept that the owner would want another miserable season in the books as a way to bond with the fanbase.  But we shall see because the Jags for 2020 are looking like a rag-tag bunch that is going to the same place they have been 4 times in the past 9 seasons – – dead last in the AFC South.

Finally, consider this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Fair:  1.  A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a hog-judging contest and consume fried cheese in the same location.  2.  What life never is, so suck it up and deal with it.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………