Three-time Pro Bowler Earl Thomas, 24, officially became the NFL’s first $10 million-a-year safety Tuesday when he signed a four-year contract extension with the Seahawks worth $40 million. Thomas’ deal includes $27.75 million in guaranteed money, and his average annual pay eclipses that of Jairus Byrd, who became a $9 million-a-year safety last month when he inked a six-year, $54 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.
Thomas, whose speed and ability to gravitate to the ball makes him one of the league’s most indispensable defensive backs, will make $4.625 million in base salary in the final year of his rookie contract next season.
“I want to thank Mr. (Paul) Allen, coach (Pete) Carroll and the whole organization, everybody,” said Thomas. “This is not abut me, it’s about the people who helped me along the way,” Thomas said, even thanking the food preparers in the VMAC cafeteria.
Thomas showed up fashionably late for his press conference after a police officer, according to Thomas, pulled him over for speeding in his haste to get to the facility.
“The limit was 25 mph and I was doing 30, no more than 30. He let me off,” said Thomas, who spent his brief time on the podium extolling the virtues of the franchise and his commitment to it.
“I love this place, it’s very dear to me,” said Thomas. “This is just a great moment and I’m excited to keep this thing rolling. I’m always trying to find the next challenge, to open up another door. My potential is limitless, there is no ceiling here. I know what I bring to this team, and now I’ll just just go out there and do my job.”
Thomas said that he texted Seahawks GM John Schneider recently about what became a record salary for a safety.
“I compete in anything I do,” said Thomas. “I want to set the bar. But it’s not about the money, it’s about separating myself in everything i do.”
“This is a very exciting day for the Seahawks organization,” said Schneider. “Earl Thomas is going to be a Seahawk for a long time. When you go out and do what I do, this is what you’re looking for right here — his intensity, passion and work ethic. The bottom line is that he’s a young man who wants to be great and it permeates throughout the building. You can just feel the energy from this man. It’s a great deal and we’re very excited for Earl.”
Said Carroll: “This program has always been based on competition. When we look for players to add, we are looking for great competitors. Throughout the time he’s been with us, Earl has played at the highest level he possibly could. For us to have an opportunity to recognize that, it’s a very proud moment for us. I’m thrilled for him and his family.”
Thomas recorded 105 tackles and five interceptions for the Super Bowl champions and finished third in voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His new deal won’t start until 2015 and will run through 2018, when Thomas will be 29.
Selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft (14th overall), Thomas has played in all 64 regular-season and all seven playoff games since joining the Seahawks. In addition to his three Pro Bowl selections, Thomas made first-team All-Pro in 2012 and 2013.
The Seahawks are also reportedly close to making Richard Sherman the highest-paid cornerback in the league at a salary that will reportedly be worth north of $12 million annually. Neither Schnedier nor Carroll addressed the Sherman situation, preferring to keep the spotlight on Thomas.
The Seahawks are able to make big-contract moves, with quarterback Russell Wilson due for a new deal following the 2014 season, as a result of events during the league’s free-agent signing period in March, when Seattle released defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and didn’t compete with the Detroit Lions for the services of wide receiver Golden Tate.