Thomas begrudgingly returns; expect him to play his quiet best

Earl Thomas and Pete Carroll (The Seattle Times via Twitter)Earl Thomas’ message has been sent and he is begrudgingly coming back for his final year in Seattle — unless a trade comes together at some point. And you can expect him to quietly play lights out.

The Seahawks reportedly rebuffed a second-round offer from Dallas this week, holding firm on better compensation for the five-time All-Pro. And that left Thomas with the choice of continuing to hold out — and lose money — or report and play for a new contract elsewhere.

He announced his return Wednesday on Instagram: “I worked my whole life for this. I’ve never let (my) teammates, city or fans down as long as I’ve lived and don’t plan on starting this weekend. With that being said, the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten. Father Time may have an undefeated record, but best believe I plan on taking him into triple overtime when it comes to my career.”

That last part is a reference to Seattle’s reason for not wanting to continue to pay him top dollar. John Schneider has been spooked by the third contracts he gave Marshawn Lynch, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett — and he doesn’t want to pay a 29-year-old speed-based safety who has missed seven games over the past two years.

We have consistently argued that Seattle should pay Thomas one more time — without the big guarantees the team foolishly gave Chancellor last year (and then quickly regretted). Seattle has a wide-open cap starting next year and could afford a four-year extension worth $56 million. Figure a new deal that pays a $14 million signing bonus, a $5 million salary in 2018 and then $10 million to $13 million the rest of the way (with roster bonuses built in). As long as he played through 2020, when he will be 31, the Hawks would be fine. Dead money would drop to $5.6 million in 2021, meaning the team could move on from him then if he were no longer worth it.

But that’s not the Seahawks’ plan. So Thomas is coming back to save himself some money — the Hawks reportedly are forgiving most of his $1.6 million in fines — and show other teams he deserves $14 million a year.

Assuming he is not traded and also does not get injured — a common result of long holdouts — he likely will get a deal from some team that equals a third-round compensatory pick for Seattle in 2020 (if the Hawks don’t net him out by adding too many free agents next year).

Thomas follows the path once taken by Walter Jones, who held out for a long-term deal in the mid-2000s and finally got it after three straight years of being franchise-tagged and holding out of camp and preseason. Jones eventually got his deal, but Thomas almost surely won’t.

So Thomas will return and begrudgingly play out one more season in Seattle (assuming he is not traded by the Oct. 30 deadline). He will start alongside Bradley McDougald, instantly boosting the talent in the back end, although it remains to be seen exactly when he will get into the lineup after missing the entire preseason. The team can request a roster exemption if it chooses.

Despite his annoyance with the club, Thomas doesn’t figure to be a problem. He is a quiet guy, so this probably won’t be the distraction that Chancellor and Bennett were as they complained about their contracts. And Thomas won’t dog it like Chancellor did in 2015 because Thomas needs to keep his value as high as possible.

He might be rightfully upset with the Seattle franchise, but he has 14 million reasons to play his best in 2018.

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