The Seattle Seahawks are only a month into their offseason and still six months away from training camp, making it awfully early to be talking about a potential holdout.
But All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas sowed those seeds over the weekend when he said to ESPN, "I definitely don't see myself going out there not signed." Any doubt that he was referring to a holdout in the absence of a multiyear extension was eliminated when Thomas doubled down on that statement the next day in an interview with the NFL Network.
So we know that Thomas wants a new contract from the Seahawks.
Here's what else you need to know about the situation:
Thomas' value: He has one season left on the four-year, $40 million extension that made him the NFL's highest-paid safety when he signed it in 2014. According to Spotrac.com, he's now sixth among safeties in terms of annual average; he's behind, among others, Kansas City's Eric Berry at No. 1 and Seahawks teammate Kam Chancellor at No. 3. It's impossible to imagine Thomas being satisfied with anything less than the $12 million that Chancellor's deal averages; he's the more accomplished of the two and more important to Seattle's defense. And Thomas could reasonably ask for a deal that tops Berry's average of $13 million. Coming off his sixth Pro Bowl appearance and with three first-team All-Pro selections on his résumé, Thomas is worthy of that type of money on his own merit. Plus, any deal signed now is going to be relative to a larger salary cap compared to when Chancellor's and Berry's deals were signed last offseason.
Remember, it's early: Thomas told ESPN that he hasn't been informed by his agent of any discussions with the team about an extension. That makes perfect sense. Under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have had a stated preference of not extending players while their contracts still have more than a season left. That means Thomas is only now eligible for one based on the team's M.O.
When Seattle has given big-money extensions to under-contract players, it has typically happened much later in the offseason. Thomas and Richard Sherman got theirs in late April and early May, respectively. Chancellor's first extension was in late April and his latest one wasn't until the start of training camp, about when Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner got theirs. Seattle extended Doug Baldwin in late May and then in late June. So the fact that there has been no movement yet on a new deal for Thomas could simply be a reflection of how it's usually the team's third order of offseason business, behind free agency and preparations for the draft.
Why the Seahawks might think twice: Though a case could be made for Sherman or Wagner, there might not be a more important player to Seattle's defense than Thomas. The Seahawks often use him as a single-high safety, something they couldn't do without his combination of speed, range and instincts. They found out the difficult reality of what life is like without him in December 2016, when their pass defense fell apart after he went down with a broken leg.
That injury is one of three that Thomas has dealt with over the past two seasons. He missed a combined seven regular-season games because of that broken leg plus two hamstring pulls after making an incredible 107 consecutive starts to begin his career. Thomas will turn 29 in May, making him young enough to conceivably still have a few years of excellent football ahead of him. And to be sure, he had a typically excellent season in 2017, full of impact plays all over the field. But the past two years have shown that he's not as indestructible as he was over his first six seasons. Plus, in Chancellor and Michael Bennett, the Seahawks just got two reminders about the dangers of shelling out big money to players approaching or over 30.
Chancellor's durability was already a question mark before he suffered a career-threatening neck injury in November. Bennett signed a three-year, $30.5 million extension in December 2016 and dealt with foot and knee injuries this past season that seemed to impact his play (though he was still effective with 8.5 sacks). Bennett could be a salary-cap casualty and said at season's end that he "probably won't be back next year." Might getting burned on the Chancellor and Bennett extensions give the Seahawks some pause about making an even larger financial commitment to Thomas?
Team's precedent with holdouts: It's one thing to talk about a holdout in January. It's quite another thing to actually hold out come training camp, when exorbitant fines pile up for each day missed. If Thomas were to go through with one, he'd have to have faith that the Seahawks would budge in a way they didn't with Chancellor and Marshawn Lynch.
The Seahawks moved money around in Lynch's contract but didn't give him a new deal when he held out for the first week of camp in 2014. Chancellor returned with no new deal after his 2015 holdout lasted two weeks into the regular season. To be sure, those situations were different than Thomas'. Chancellor and Lynch each had more than a season left on their contracts, which gave the Seahawks a valid reason to not capitulate. Still, their handling of Chancellor's holdout made a strong statement. Recall that Seattle lost its season opener to the Rams in overtime after Chancellor's replacement, Dion Bailey, slipped and allowed the tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation. The Seahawks held their ground with Chancellor even when it was painfully obvious how much they missed him. Might that episode dissuade Thomas if training camp arrives and he's still without an extension?
Again, that's still six months away. It might never come to that.