Trade or re-sign Earl Thomas? Insiders pick for Seahawks

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Earl Thomas wants a new contract from the Seattle Seahawks, announcing Sunday that he’s skipping mandatory minicamp this week “until my contract situation is resolved.”

The 29-year-old safety, who has made three first-team All-Pro teams and six Pro Bowls and has 25 career interceptions, is entering the final year of a four-year, $40 million deal. He was the subject of trade speculation earlier this offseason, and the Dallas Cowboys have flirted with trying to acquire him. Seahawks general manager John Schneider never shot down the possibility of a Thomas trade, saying it’s his job to listen to all offers.

So, now what for Thomas and the Seahawks? We asked our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders to weigh in what Schneider & Co. should do next, which teams make sense for Thomas, and more:


Should the Seahawks trade Thomas or give him an extension?

Brady Henderson, Seahawks reporter: I doubt that Thomas would take much less than the $13 million that Eric Berry makes a year as the league’s highest-paid safety, so I would try to extend him with a similar average but structure it in a way that minimizes the financial commitment in later seasons. The Seahawks would be much better off keeping Thomas in the fold given all the key pieces their defense has lost, but they also have to protect themselves in the long term after getting burned on big-money extensions for Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett. Accomplishing both might be easier said than done.

Mina Kimes, senior writer: I would extend him at $13 million a year, which is how much Eric Berry is making. If the Seahawks really aren’t in full rebuild mode (they’ve claimed it’s more of a “little reset”), they need Thomas on the field to contend. He’s an all-world talent who showed no signs of decline last season.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: I’d extend Thomas and not overthink the financial ballpark too significantly — he’s going to be among the highest-paid safeties in the league. Thomas is the game’s most instinctive and versatile free safety. Seattle’s window might have a different outlook in 2018 compared to previous seasons, but Thomas is a homegrown elite player.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: I’d extend his contract for $12-13 million a year. Thomas will want more than that, and it’s looking like other teams aren’t offering a ton in a trade, so it’s not as simple as just saying extend him or trade him.

Earl Thomas has 25 career interceptions in eight seasons with the Seahawks. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Matt Bowen, NFL writer: I would extend Thomas. He’s still a blue-chip talent and a key to the Seahawks’ core defensive system. Given his range, ball skills and high-level awareness as a deep-middle player, Thomas’ salary should be on par with the highest-paid safeties in the league.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: I’d extend him, personally. I understand the Seahawks are rebuilding their secondary, but that means they’re not paying anyone else in the unit top-of-market money (unless Chancellor actually does play again). Thomas is still under 30 and probably could help make the rebuild work. Assuming Chancellor is off the books, why wouldn’t they be able to give him a deal in that ($12 million/year) range?

Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: The best result would be to extend Thomas on a short-term deal. He’s likely to still be one of the top free safeties in football for the next two or three years. But will he take $13 million, and will he take it for only three years? Throw more than that on the contract and you risk carrying dead weight in a couple years.

If the Seahawks trade Thomas, which team makes the most sense to target him?

Henderson: Dallas Cowboys. They are the obvious choice given that they’re the only team known to have had serious interest in Thomas. He has serious interest in playing for them, which could matter for this reason, among others: Any team that trades for Thomas would want to have an extension in place first, and that would be facilitated if Thomas was willing to take a little less money in exchange for the chance to play for his hometown team.

Kimes: Dallas Cowboys. Dallas, which hired former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard as its defensive backs coach, is the obvious choice. I think Seattle would rather stomach a brief holdout than cough up Thomas for a mid-round pick, though.

Yates: Los Angeles Chargers. Yes, they used a first-round pick on Derwin James, but top-tier defenses don’t overthink talent. Former Seahawks coordinator Gus Bradley holds the same spot in Los Angeles. The New England Patriots are an example of a team that relied on three-safety looks on two thirds of their snaps last season. It’s a valuable position, and there is no such thing as having too many talented defensive backs.

Sando: Dallas Cowboys. Because of their system and Thomas’ apparent desire to play there.

Bowen: Dallas Cowboys.They make the most sense because of the need at the position and Thomas’ immediate fit in their scheme. This would be a seamless transition for Thomas, and his presence would upgrade the entire Dallas defense.

Graziano: Dallas Cowboys. They have been the team most closely connected with Thomas, and they still have a need at the position. The Cowboys wouldn’t part with their second-round pick in the draft without knowing for sure whether they could sign him long-term, and maybe now that Thomas is exerting some leverage on the Seahawks, their patience could end up paying off, and they can get him for less.

Schatz: Dallas Cowboys. I wish I could be creative and suggest a team other than Dallas, but you end up with teams in the division (San Francisco, a trade that will never happen) or teams with cap space that have a clear hole at strong safety but not free safety (Indianapolis). The Houston Texans might make an interesting landing spot, though, especially with the recent announcement about Andre Hal’s health.

Is Thomas a Hall of Famer right now?

Henderson: If the question is whether Thomas should be a Hall of Famer if he retired now, my answer is yes. He has been arguably the most impactful player on a historically great defense. If the question is would he, I’d say probably. Looking at recent precedent, former Seahawks safety Kenny Easley — who had a similar career to Thomas’ — had to wait 25 years before he was elected last year.

Kimes: Yes, especially if he plays at a high level for two more years. Darrelle Revis once said this to me about Thomas: “That guy has Hall of Fame written all over him.”

Yates: Yes. Part of a player’s candidacy extends beyond his numbers, though Thomas’ statistical production is already Canton-esque. It’s about how that player impacts the league as a whole. Since early in his career, teams have often coveted a safety akin to Thomas, conceding that they rarely are available. That speaks to his unique ability.

Richard Sherman (No. 25) and Michael Bennett (No. 72) have left the Seahawks’ star-studded defense. Could Earl Thomas be next to go?

Sando: Yes. Kenny Easley just made it. Thomas has had comparable impact for an all-time great defense that won a championship.

Bowen: Based on Thomas’ production through eight seasons and his unique impact on opposing offensive game plans, his résumé points to Canton. The safety position is tricky with Hall of Fame voters, however, as we have seen with players such as Packers legend LeRoy Butler.

Graziano: The Pro Football Hall of Fame voting process is a total mystery to me, so I try very hard to stay out of the predictions business when it comes to that.

Schatz: Yes, there’s a good argument that Thomas has been the best defensive player in the game over the past couple years. He certainly has been the best defensive player in the back seven.

Bonus: The Seahawks will finish _-_ in 2018.

Henderson: 8-8. The running game and kicking game are two areas in which the Seahawks should be improved compared to the 2017 team that went 9-7. But they’re playing in an increasingly competitive division, and they’ve lost a considerable amount of talent on defense. A Thomas holdout would further diminish that group.

Kimes: 9-7, though I’d subtract two wins if Thomas leaves. The NFC West is pretty grisly looking, but I see a lot of winnable games on the rest of Seattle’s schedule.

Yates: 9-7. Quarterback play can go a long way in the NFL, and despite role holes on both sides, the Seahawks have an outstanding signal-caller in Russell Wilson and arguably the best defensive quarterback in football in Bobby Wagner.

Sando: 9-7. Wilson and an improved run game led by healthier backs compensate some for a D that is no longer great, but not as bad as the personnel subtractions suggest it could be.

Bowen: 9-7. Wilson’s play-making ability and intangibles will always keep the Seahawks in the hunt. But I have concerns about a Seattle defense that has to replace multiple impact players, plus an NFC West slate that is much tougher to navigate.

Graziano: 9-7. The division is stronger than it was two years ago, the Seattle defense has lost too many pieces to continue as the dominant unit it used to be, and I’m still not all the way sold on what they have at wide receiver and offensive line. Wilson is good enough to get the Seahawks to a winning record, and the roster is far from barren, but I don’t see any clear reason to expect the 2018 Seahawks to be better than the 2017 Seahawks were.

Schatz: 8-8. The NFC is hard. In the AFC, they would be favored to be a playoff team.

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