The Baltimore Ravens washed their hands of Earl Thomas this week, releasing the seven-time Pro Bowl safety after his recent training camp fight capped a year of intermittent on- and off-field misconduct with the team. Thomas’ old coach, Pete Carroll, feels sorry for the veteran, indicating the longtime Seattle Seahawks star must be in a “bad state” to be sent home from camp, and it’s not as if the safety’s 2019 performance on the field was extraordinary, either. This is still a potential future Hall of Famer we’re talking about, though, and now that Thomas is officially a free agent, he figures to have himself a market.
Where, exactly, could the All-Pro defensive back end up? Here’s a look at the eight most logical landing spots:
So often, these late-offseason moves come down to connections. Atlanta has a big one: Coach Dan Quinn was Thomas’ defensive coordinator from 2013-2014, and he’s already made it clear he loves Thomas, calling him one of his all-time favorite players. The holdup here is Atlanta doesn’t seem in a hurry to shake up the safety position. Barring a serious injury, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee are locked in as starters.
If there’s one spot the Colts could stand to improve, it’s the secondary, where Malik Hooker, Khari Willis and Tavon Wilson all bring their fair share of question marks at safety. And they definitely need some of those questions answered considering their cornerback situation. Indy is in it to win it after banking on Philip Rivers in the short term, and Chris Ballard isn’t afraid to add big names to the defense.
If one of Thomas’ top goals is returning to his home state of Texas, there’s no reason Houston shouldn’t be in the mix, even if reports suggest the club is not overly interested. Dallas obviously has the America’s Team appeal, but it feels like we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop at safety for the Texans ever since the team cut Tashaun Gipson one year into a big deal. Deshaun Watson reportedly urged coach Bill O’Brien to consider Thomas in 2019, and while those talks never materialized into a deal, Houston could once again use a quality starter opposite Justin Reid.
The Chargers already boast one of the NFL‘s most accomplished secondaries, with Derwin James, Chris Harris, Casey Heyward and Desmond King among the top DBs. Nasir Adderley and Rayshawn Jenkins are also in line for big roles. But defensive coordinator Gus Bradley loves him some Earl Thomas, serving as the vet’s DC in Seattle from 2010-2012, the “Legion of Boom” days, and the Chargers seem to be relying even more on their defensive leadership this year.
This team’s got money to burn and, more importantly, a sizable hole at safety. With versatile rookie Grant Delpit suffering a season-ending Achilles injury, the Browns are set to count on Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph, two replacement-level vets, as the starters on the back end. They’ve sniffed around plenty of big-name defenders this offseason. This one just makes a lot of sense, with the added bonus of Thomas bringing some inside info on an AFC North rival.
The Niners don’t necessarily need a starting safety, but if they’re serious about getting back to the Super Bowl, the fit seems obvious. Thomas has chemistry with former Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, San Francisco has had trouble getting full, healthy seasons from Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, and Thomas is flexible enough to serve as a quasi-linebacker closer to the line.
This almost feels inevitable, doesn’t it? New England never hesitates to explore veteran castoffs. Starting safety Patrick Chung opted out of the season. Thomas is known for his high football IQ. If the Patriots are dead serious about playing low-scoring, defensively geared football in 2020, adding someone with Thomas’ pedigree seems like a no-brainer, even if only for one year. Thomas, meanwhile, would get to stick with a prestigious franchise and get a crack at playing Baltimore in 2020.
Contrary to reports by NFL Network, team owner Jerry Jones has left the door wide open for Thomas to get his longstanding wish of playing for the Cowboys, assuring reporters Dallas is still evaluating its safety situation. (And let’s be clear: Thomas really wants to play for them, openly declaring so on multiple occasions.) The Cowboys added Ha Ha Clinton-Dix this offseason, but they haven’t been shy about adding lots of older, proven pieces, and they were in on a potential safety upgrade by exploring a Jamal Adams trade. New coach Mike McCarthy is also a noted friend of Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who can vouch for Thomas’ long stretch of stardom. Bringing him back to Texas would simply allow Clinton-Dix and Xavier Woods to have more flexible roles.