The Seahawks offered up a multi-layered response Sunday to the crappiness of the season’s first two weeks, including a run-game renaissance behind a Hobbit-sized backup center. But the 24-13 victory (box) over the remarkably inept Dallas Cowboys shivered in the shadow cast by the latest twists in the saga of FS Earl Thomas.
His game Sunday was as good as his post-game chat was bizarre. And his NFL future is as opaque as Pete Carroll’s remarks.
“I’ll talk to him next week about whatever,” the Seahawks coach said. “There’s nothing to even tell you about right now. I’ll let you know next week.
“What I do know he gave everything he had today. He was in everything. He played his tail off and he had a blast playing.”
Reading between the soap opera’s lines, Thomas’s strategy now becomes apparent:
He is going to withdraw from practice as much as he can to provoke management into a trade (or an increasingly unlikely contract extension), while keeping his teammates’ respect for him, as well as his market value, high.
As in: Seven tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a wicked bow to the Cowboys bench after the second pick that was his f— you for not trading for him. Yet.
Earl Thomas literally just bowed to the Dallas Cowboys sideline after icing the game for Seattle pic.twitter.com/kRr5DswQGn
— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) September 23, 2018
The gesture drew a 15-yard taunting penalty, but was as theatrically distinctive as the “Z” that a smiling Zorro slashes with his sword into the shirts of those he has subdued.
Earlier in the week, Thomas held himself out of practice twice for reasons of neither health nor rest. It was a tiny resurrection of his holdout from training camp and preseason. Thomas said he knew he’s likely to face fines from the team.
In front of reporters Sunday, Thomas’s explanation was a distant homage to the epic rant of Allen Iverson.
“I need to make sure my body is 100 percent and I’m invested in myself,” he said. “If they was invested in me, I’d be out there practicing. But if I feel like anything — I don’t give a damn if it’s small, I got a headache — I’m not practicing.”
The practice-holdout provocation immediately re-ignited speculation about a trade, with Dallas and Kansas City at the top of the media-guess list. The trade talk, to hear Thomas tell it, reached the Clink field pre-game.
“I heard the chatter,” said Thomas, who was seen talking with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, he of the infamous “come get me” episode in December. “People were coming up to me and saying the trade might happen. Even pre-game, a couple of the Cowboys coaches — I don’t know if they were trying to play psychological games — but they were like, ‘You ready for the trade tomorrow?’
“But at the end of the day, I had a great time with the guys I’ve been practicing with — well, not practicing with, but the guys that I’ve been around. It was just fun out there.”
If that episode were true, it likely meets the definition of tampering, a violation of NFL rules. But since there is likely no public record and likely no public admission by the Cowboys, the NFL won’t be able to sanction it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t tampering.
Asked whether one of the coaches was Kris Richard, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator fired by Carroll and now coaching the Cowboys’ defensive backs, Thomas said no.
“I don’t know if they were joking, or serious or not,” Thomas said. “I was minding my business in my routine and they came up and a couple guys said something.”
Internally, Thomas’s rebellion sets up a management problem for Carroll: No matter how valuable Thomas is — and he made his case compellingly to the 12s in the home opener — indulging his tactic means creation of a double standard. Not that it hasn’t happened before (see Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman), but every time, it causes a headache.
Thomas denied it would create a problem within the team.
“They know me,” he said of his teammates. “When we’re in the room, it’s straight business, but they also know that I’m going to be me. I’m going to be free. I know who I am in this game — especially in this game.
“I’m not going to let anyone take advantage of my God-given ability.”
Thomas’s claim of no disruption was backed by QB Russell Wilson.
“Not at all,” he said. “We always come together. “Earl’s a star and he’s always worked really hard. There’s nobody who practices better than him.”
Unless, of course, if he’s not practicing. Not that he’s dismissing the value of practice . . . but he’s apparently making an exception.
“Practice is a big deal,” he said. “In my younger days, it made me who I am. I always practiced hard. But I understand now — especially because I’m going to be careful.”
He’s less cautious about turning the tables on Carroll and general manager John Schneider. As much as they’ve let slide the practice absences of Lynch, Sherman, Michael Bennett and others, they don’t like it all when a player makes the dispute a public spectacle. As those three know, Carroll and Schneider have limits on the rope they give to any players.
Now that the threat of playing against Thomas this season in a Cowboys uniform has passed in a successful way, Carroll and Schneider can consider anew whether Thomas is worth the hassle relative to the price he can fetch in a trade. With each passing week ahead of the Oct. 30 trade deadline, teams become either more or less desperate for outside help.
At 29, Thomas has proven he’s at the top of his game. The Seahawks will say or do nothing that discourages that impression.
In order not to seem so pathetic in the marketplace, it also helps that 1-2 Seattle finally won a football game, even though the past two victories have been against a disintegrating Cowboys team (a 21-12 victory in Dallas on Christmas Eve despite gaining just 136 yards of offense).
The most recent non-Cowboys win was Dec. 3, when they beat 24-10 the Eagles, who recovered sufficiently to win the Super Bowl. Since then, the Seahawks lost to the Jaguars 30-24, the Rams 42-7, the Cardinals 26-24, all four 2018 preseason games and the first two regular season games in Denver and Chicago.
“It’s been awhile,” Carroll said. “I like winning in the preseason because it’s more fun. Our guys have been waiting, so they’re really excited to get it done. But more importantly, we took a really good, positive step forward. We think we can build on that.”
The question is whether that growth can take place without Thomas, who has heard nothing about a contract extension. Since Carroll said he would address Thomas’s future in the week ahead, the guess here is that the Seahawks have offers in hand that awaited Sunday’s outcomes.
“It was a pretty challenging week,” Carroll said of the tumult of last week that included adding convicted felon Mychal Kendricks and injuries to the offensive line. “It was fun. That’s how it goes, and who wants to be dull?
Dull has never been an issue with the Seahawks. Smart? That has come up in the past few years. And it will again when Thomas is dealt.