Ravens face difficult decision regarding Earl Thomas' future

Are Thomas' days in Baltimore numbered? (0:40)

Jamison Hensley breaks down the decision the Ravens have to make after the team sent Earl Thomas home Friday following a heated dispute. (0:40)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are exploring all of their options with Earl Thomas, and none of them ends with an enviable resolution.

If the Ravens cut ties with the seven-time Pro Bowl safety, it will result in a massive $15 million salary-cap hit and a hole in one of the best secondaries in the NFL. If they hold on to Thomas, they run the risk of another altercation and upsetting the chemistry of a Super Bowl contender.

And if the Ravens can avoid paying him the $10 million guaranteed salary this year for conduct detrimental to the team, they still will have given him $22 million for one forgettable season of work.

The Ravens signed Thomas in March 2019 to a four-year, $55 million contract, the largest deal they've ever given to a defensive player. Baltimore was lauded for luring Thomas out of a verbal agreement with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Ravens were getting a future Hall of Fame defender and their best playmaking ball hawk since Ed Reed.

Just 17 months later, Thomas' future is in question after producing as many run-ins with teammates (two) as interceptions for the Ravens.

On Friday, Thomas was sent home after he had a fiery on-the-field confrontation with safety Chuck Clark, who is normally one of the most reserved players on the team. A day later, Thomas didn't practice and then shared a since-deleted video on Instagram that showed his busted coverage as well as Clark throwing his helmet down in disgust.

This flare-up comes nearly one year since Thomas instigated a heated exchange with nose tackle Brandon Williams after a loss to the Cleveland Browns. Thomas entered the training room when Williams was getting dressed and expressed frustration over Williams being inactive. Staff members separated them, and Thomas later said he was "on the same page" as Williams.

The Ravens can't be too surprised because Thomas came to Baltimore with a volatile reputation. The lasting final image of Thomas with the Seattle Seahawks is him leaving the field on an injury cart, with his broken left leg in an air cast and his right middle finger extended toward Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

But Baltimore took a chance on Thomas because it had a history of absorbing strong-willed veterans in its locker room. After the 2019 season, the Ravens were desperate to add a free safety after cutting Eric Weddle and losing veteran leadership in Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. The Ravens thought Thomas would add an edge to the defense.

Instead, Thomas made just two interceptions and recorded a career-low four pass breakups. His first season in Baltimore will be remembered more for him giving up on an 88-yard touchdown run by Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb and getting stiff-armed by Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry.

The Ravens could try to make it work with Thomas for another season. Baltimore can create $6 million in cap space by cutting him next season, which would be a more favorable financial move.

Thomas went to the Pro Bowl last season, and he is the best free safety on the team. Ravens officials like the upside of DeShon Elliott, but he has played just six games in two NFL seasons because of injuries.

Parting ways with Thomas would be easier if the Ravens could void his guarantees for conduct detrimental to the team. According to Over The Cap, Thomas' cap number would drop to $5 million in 2020 and $10 million in 2021.

The Ravens' focus should be on a promising season rather than a situation that has become an unwanted distraction. It's three weeks until the Ravens open their season against the Browns, and Baltimore has a decision to make about one of its biggest stars that would've been unthinkable just a year and a half ago.