Few safeties throughout history can match up to the greatness of Earl Thomas. A three-time All-Pro, the superstar defender has been arguably the best safety in the NFL throughout his career. As head of the fabled Legion of Boom, Thomas led one of the most prolific defenses in recent memory, culminating in a Super Bowl XLVIII victory. The 30-year old ended his Seattle tenure on a low note and will test the open market. He played just four games in 2018 but is still a dangerous playmaker when on the field.
2019 NFL Free Agency: Earl Thomas
It’s no secret that Earl Thomas wanted a new contract heading into 2018. Playing in the final year of his deal, Thomas wanted long-term security before hitting the field and risking injury. The Seattle Seahawks didn’t want to do this, and Thomas eventually returned to the field as Seattle tried to find a trade partner.
Unfortunately, the worst possible scenario played out after just four games. Thomas fractured his left leg against the Arizona Cardinals, putting him on the injured reserve and prematurely ending his season. Thomas finished his abbreviated season with 22 tackles, three interceptions, and five passes defended. It’s obviously unknown how much this injury will affect his value, but Thomas clearly wasn’t happy with the team after the injury occurred.
The injury obviously doesn’t help his long-term value, and there is concern about his durability entering his age-30 season. However, the nine-year NFL veteran still plays like a star when on the field. Thomas played in 14 games back in 2017, recording 88 tackles, two interceptions and seven passes defended while taking away the deep part of the field. He might not be the same player who won three-straight First-Team All-Pro’s, but he’s still a well-above-average starter. Barring a surprising roster cut, Thomas will easily be the top safety on the free agent market.
The Seattle Seahawks will not use the franchise tag on Thomas, and Thomas wouldn’t come back to Seattle for all the money in the world. That bridge is burned, so 2018 will be Thomas’ first NFL season outside of Seattle. As of this posting, there is one clear frontrunner in the Earl Thomas sweepstakes.
Thomas has publicly stated on multiple occasions that he wants to join the Dallas Cowboys, and the interest appears mutual. Dallas was reportedly one of the teams negotiating with Thomas prior to his season-ending leg injury. Obviously, those trade talks ended after Thomas’ injury, but it still stands to reason that Dallas would still be interested.
The Cowboys defense is stock full of young, exciting playmakers, but their one weakness is safety. Xavier Woods is a serviceable starter at free safety, but Thomas represents a significant upgrade. With a projected $48.5 million in cap space (per Spotrac.com), Dallas should be able to bring Thomas aboard.
If the Cowboys were scared off by last year’s leg injury, Thomas could also find a home with the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers ended the 2018 season ranked 23rd in defensive DVOA and are in desperate need of playmakers in the secondary. San Francisco finished the year with just two interceptions, which was easily the lowest number in the league. By comparison, Thomas had more interceptions in 2018 than the 49ers did. Thomas wouldn’t fix everything by himself, but signing him would help re-stock a 49ers secondary desperately searching for talent. With nearly $49 million in cap space, San Francisco should be able to make a signing happen.
Last Word on Earl Thomas in Free Agency
Earl Thomas has battled injuries in recent seasons and hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2015. That said, when he’s on the field, he’s still one of the best in the league at his position. Thomas isn’t the player he once was, but he can still take away the deep part of the field while delivering punishing hits over the middle. Any team looking for improvement at the safety position should have Thomas at the top of their wish list.
Most high-profile free agents have a strong chance of returning to their original team, but Thomas has no chance of re-joining the Seattle Seahawks. Thomas wanted a new contract prior to the season, and Seattle wouldn’t budge. Thomas suffered a season-ending injury just four games into the season, putting his financial future in jeopardy. The Seahawks clearly don’t want to invest in him long-term, and even if they did, Thomas probably has no interest in coming back.
Thomas’ most likely landing spot right now has to be the Dallas Cowboys. Thomas has publicly expressed interest in joining Dallas, and the Cowboys have shown a mutual interest. The Cowboys already have an impressive young core of defenders, and adding Thomas could be the missing piece in creating an all-around elite defense.
If Thomas doesn’t end up in Dallas, then the next most likely landing spot is the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco desperately needs playmakers in their secondary, and Thomas is still an explosive player when healthy. Being in the NFC West and playing the Seattle Seahawks twice a year would just be an added benefit to joining former teammate Richard Sherman in the 49ers secondary.
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