The look was clear on Earl Thomas’ face. Disappointment, mixed with disgust.
And as Thomas, the Seattle Seahawks’ star free safety, was wheeled away on the back of a cart with his broken left leg in an air cast on Sunday, that combustible mixture of emotions welled up within him as he proceeded to glare at the Seahawks’ sideline, purse his lips disgustedly and flip the bird in that direction.
Assuming the gesture was indicative of Thomas’ frustration with the Seahawks — the two sides have had an, um, contentious relationship the past several months — it’s not hard to figure out why he’d do such a thing, producing a moment that quickly went viral.
Thomas, 29, is an All-Pro safety who is in the final year of his contract that pays him an $8.5 million base salary this season. He knows that the older a player gets in the NFL, the harder it is to get big money. Thomas figured he did enough in Seattle, where he played an integral role in delivering the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl title, to earn one last big-money deal before the season.
He was wrong.
Thomas meets his nightmare scenario
And now — amid reports that say Thomas has a clean, lower leg fracture and will be 100 percent by the Super Bowl — he’ll likely head into free agency as somewhat damaged goods. He’ll be 30 when next season starts, which won’t help him as teams might be less inclined to pay big money to him, at least on a long-term deal, with only three full games under his belt in 2018.
This was the nightmare scenario for Thomas, one that he and other pending free agents who raise hell after being asked to play out the string of their contracts with no long-term commitment — like Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell, for instance — are terrified of. That’s because veterans like Thomas and Bell understand that few sports are as cruel as professional football, where career-ending injuries can happen in a blink (see, Ryan Shazier) and contract-year injuries like Thomas happen 20 times as often.
Professional football is a business, folks, and don’t you ever forget it. Players sure don’t. They can’t. Rookies are told by veterans almost immediately to forget the rah-rah stuff they learned in college because teams care about only winning and making money, and clubs’ only loyalty is to those dual goals.
Thomas felt the Seahawks cared little about doing right by him. And it’s tough to blame him for feeling that way. The last remaining member of the famed Legion of Boom, Thomas had to watch one backfield mate — cornerback Richard Sherman — leave in March after tearing his Achilles last season, coincidentally in Arizona, and another — strong safety Kam Chancellor — retire in July due to the risk of a long-term neck injury.
The Seahawks refused to sign him to an extension this offseason, opting to prioritize new deals with receiver Tyler Lockett (three-year extension in August) and defensive end Frank Clark (unrestricted free agent after this season). Thomas fumed, knowing that if he suffered a major injury, it would cost him millions.
Here’s how Seahawks, Chiefs and Cowboys lose
But now, with the injury, everybody loses. That includes the Seahawks, who stand to get nothing guaranteed for Thomas when he leaves in free agency in March. If Thomas signs elsewhere and has a nice 2019 season, Seattle could be granted a conditional draft pick for him in 2020, but that would:
a.) be no higher than a third-round pick, at best
b.) only happen if the Seahawks don’t sign a free agent as good as him next offseason
The Chiefs, in particular, were particularly annoyed with the development, as sources tell Yahoo Sports that although the two teams couldn’t agree on a trade this past week, the two sides were inching closer toward a deal and there was internal optimism something would be struck before the deadline.
As such, the Chiefs will be forced to roll along without Thomas, who stands to lose from the injury as much as anyone. Judging by his viral gesture to the Seahawks’ sideline on Sunday evening, he knew that.
Bitterness since summer
Thomas held out throughout the Seahawks’ organized team activities, just like Bell, and skipped the entire preseason before reporting a few days before the Seattle’s season opener against Denver.
His displeasure didn’t end, with Thomas being fined for missing practices and Thomas admitting after last week’s game that he would sit out practices for anything — even headaches — since he had to protect his long-term interests in lieu of the Seahawks’ failure to give him long-term security. It added up to a big fiasco, and it’s certainly worth noting that the Seahawks listened to overtures from other teams about Thomas’ services, with ESPN reporting Sunday that the Seahawks were “stuck” on acquiring a second-round pick for him.
Perhaps some good will come of it. Perhaps more fans, many of whom root for team over player, will see that clip, realize how much money one of the game’s best players lost and, in the future, think twice about calling any player who holds out greedy or selfish for doing what must be done to protect his financial interests in a league that’s all about business.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Pete Thamel: One awful play ended Penn State’s party vs. Ohio State
• Meet the coach who cut Brett Kavanaugh
• Europe thrashes USA in Ryder Cup
• Baltimore’s $161M player finishes with worst batting average ever