Earl Thomas’ future in Seattle has suddenly come into question — thanks to his puzzling comments in the final weeks of the season and Pete Carroll’s lack of a firm answer about Thomas’ status.
We think the team will extend Thomas, but it’s entirely possible Thomas has been speaking out of knowledge that Seattle is not interested in extending him.
Trading Thomas would not make any football sense, of course, because the Seahawks don’t have anyone nearly as talented and are already thin at safety with Kam Chancellor possibly done playing and Bradley McDougald a free agent.
But there is a scenario where Carroll and John Schneider might decide dealing their 28-year-old Pro Bowl free safety is their best move: If they really want to pay to keep Sheldon Richardson and if Chancellor decides he wants his injury-guaranteed salary, the Hawks would have to make salary cap room for both.
If they retained Richardson on the franchise tag (projected at $14.5 million) and Chancellor forced them to put him on IR so he could collect his $6.8 million, the Hawks would need more than the $12.25 million in space they would net from Cliff Avril retiring and Jeremy Lane being let go.
With at least half a dozen ERFAs and possible restricted tenders for Justin Coleman and Dion Jordan, the Hawks would have maybe about $7 million left if they tagged Richardson and had to carry Chancellor’s dead guarantee. Even if they managed to come to a long-term agreement with Richardson, they still would need more cap space for the final 6-8 roster spots (along with rookie bonuses, practice squad and in-season injury replacements).
Moving Thomas would free up $8.5 million. Of course, it also would make re-signing McDougald an even bigger priority than it probably is already. McDougald played for $2 million this season and figures to make a bit more in 2018 — some have projected at least $6 million, but $4 million seems more apt considering the lack of market for the safety last offseason.
The Hawks then would need to figure out whether 2017 rookies Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson were ready — or whether they needed to add a veteran starting safety to play opposite McDougald.
Carroll strongly hinted that Chancellor’s career is over, and some think Chancellor will force the Hawks to pay his guarantee and stash him on IR. But it’s also possible he will be content with the $10 million signing bonus Seattle paid him last year, knowing the team will not try to recoup it if he retires. His 2018 salary becomes fully guaranteed on Feb. 10, but he obviously could decide to retire at any time before or after that. Odds are we will know his intentions by next month.
If Chancellor were to retire, it would save Seattle $2.3 million. Rather than trading Thomas then, the Hawks might instead cut Jon Ryan (which they might do anyway) to save $2 million and maybe Neiko Thorpe to save $1.85 million. That could still give the team enough to re-sign Richardson and McDougald.
If the Hawks decide they need to move Thomas (trading period begins March 14), he probably would net them something like a second-rounder and a later pick — which would basically offset what they gave up for Richardson.
While Carroll did not specifically answer Tuesday whether Thomas would be back, he did still refer to him as a core player. But, with so much up in the air, it’s easy to see why Carroll might not know for sure whether his star safety will be back.
“We’ve got personnel issues. We’ve got contract and cap issues that we will deal with,” Carroll said. “We are faced with big challenges always, and there’s a lot of people involved, there’s families involved and there’s heartfelt friends and loved ones and all that we are dealing with. We take all of that into account to compete our butt off to figure out how to get better and get back on track the way we want to be.”