Why won’t NFL teams sign former Ravens star Earl Thomas?

After his recent release, nobody knows where Earl Thomas will sign. He's exceptionally talented but brings a few red flags as well.

What’s maybe even stranger than Earl Thomas’ release by the Baltimore Ravens is how long he’s been available. Herein lies a 31-year-old, Canton-bound safety. He’s fully healthy and still hoping to prove there’s more to his overall game. Yet nearly ten days have passed, Thomas remains a free agent, and that phone is quieter than mice in a church. The question most are asking themselves is when will Thomas sign?

Since entering the league, it’s often been Thomas leading the pack as the league’s top safety. The seven-time Pro Bowler still excels in coverage, is always consistent in creating turnovers, and is a willing tackler. From highlights in the “Legion of Boom” to an unsettling broken ending in Seattle, Thomas has been a focal point in the NFL for multiple reasons. 

Thomas’ tenure with Baltimore will end on a sour a note — and that’s not talking about a down year in production. Once that punch was thrown to fellow safety Chuck Clark, it was the final straw in a rocky relationship between one of the league’s top coaches and a generational defender. A 16-word statement might be tiny, but it spoke volumes on where the Ravens stood against Thomas’ wild offseason. 

Now, LOB legend or not, there’s no guarantee when the safety could suit up in 2020 — if at all. Why won’t NFL teams sign Thomas?

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2020 offseason is one to remember

When players are willing to vote a talent like Thomas out of the locker room, multiple questions must be asked. Was Thomas that much of a diva? How different was he off the field? What was the real feeling teammates had? 

The punch on Clark was the end of a wild offseason with Thomas. In April, Thomas’ wife was arrested in Texas following an altercation that involved a loaded weapon. Nina Thomas was charged with first-degree felony burglary, according to court documents. In a statement released by Nina, she said the confrontation began because she believed Thomas was cheating on her.

Related | Is Earl Thomas to the Cowboys a realistic landing spot?

Less than two weeks later, Thomas made the news once more. In an Instagram video, which was later deleted, the safety stated that TMZ would release details of the altercation. 

“It’s not really anybody’s business,” Thomas said in the video. “It pisses me off that it got out, but it’s the world we live in today. But instead of talking about us, just keep us in y’all’s prayers. Stuff like this happens.”

Unannounced to the Ravens, this was new information to the team that signed him to a brand new $55 million less than 13 months prior.

According to NBC Sports’ Peter King, before his release, multiple teammates were outspoken against Thomas’ tardiness and demeanor in the locker room. But once the fist fired at Clark, the league’s top defense protected the third-year safety over the three-time All-Pro. 

Thomas’ free agency may last into the regular season

Once a free agent, it seems as if everyone flashed back to Thomas’ “come get me, Dallas clip as an indication of who were the front-runners. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys are likely out on Thomas due to his probable price tag. Then again, Jerry Jones refuted the claim on 105.3 The Fan, saying the door is still open. 

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Jones said. “He has no idea what he’s talking about.”

Several believed the Atlanta Falcons could be in the market thanks to Thomas’ and head coach Dan Quinn’s relationship from Seattle. He refuted the claim, saying the team would not be reaching out at this time. Most recently, the Hard Knocks stars Chargers saw their standout safety Derwin James suffer a meniscus injury. Even with James missing the season, head coach Anthony Lynn stated the team was not interested. 

Related: 2021 NFL Draft: Three Earl Thomas replacements for Baltimore

Perhaps teams are waiting for injuries to come during the regular season. Maybe franchises are hoping to see the asking price be lowered before putting pen to paper. However, no matter the reasoning, Thomas remains unsigned as teams prep to cut their roster’s down from training camp 80-man to a regular season 53.

Both the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers could be in line to sign Thomas before the season begins. Houston will need a proper running mate with the multi-tooled Justin Reid while the 49ers could see a reunion between Thomas and 2019 rebound star Richard Sherman. The Texans, which have roughly $4.9 million in cap space, could use Thomas in a role similar to Tyrann Mathieu from 2018 on a one-year rental deal.

Were the Browns late to the Party? 

Keep an eye on the Cleveland Browns to be in the mix if Thomas’ agent, David Mulugheta, could land him another lucrative deal. The Browns will be without rookie free safety Grant Delpit after the team announced he ruptured his Achilles in practice. Leading the way with $20.2 million in cap space, Cleveland could offer Thomas a long-term contract and eventually transfer over to strong safety when Delpit fully recovers.

Related: Lamar Jackson is poised to get the 2020 Ravens over the playoff hump

Ultimately, contract negations could pose a problem in signing the veteran superstar. The Ravens will owe Thomas $5 million in dead money for 2020 and could pay more the following year. The team will likely fight to recover the $10 million owed is this season. Thomas is expected to file a grievance with the NFL Players Association. If the NFLPA feels Thomas violated team rules, that could up his asking price if negotiations are to pick up during the year.

Time will tell for Thomas 

For perhaps the first time in his career, there are no guarantees when it comes to Thomas. He’s entering his 11th season and coming off one of his worst years in coverage; it’s certainly looking like the beginning of the end. That said, maybe a switch back to his old position could be the kick needed to start the fire. 

Thomas’ legacy is defined by two eras – the pre- and post-LOB life. One has him looking positive as the leader of one of the most outstanding secondaries, while the latter has him giving the bird and breaking a face. In the end, talent alone will speak, leading eventually to a franchise opening their wallet and paying the man.

Despite his year in Baltimore playing out like a telenovela, Thomas’ time in the NFL is far from over. His legacy overall as a teammate might be defined in one direction permanently, all depending on how he acts in the next locker room. One swing in the negative direction could be too much for a third chance, even if his performance on the field does most of the talking. 

Age isn’t just a number in the NFL. It’s a countdown clock that eventually has an expiration date for all. For Thomas, his attitude might be pressing the fast forward button on full blast towards the end of a Hall of Fame career.

Cole Thompson covers the NFL for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson and @PFN365 for all up to date NFL content.

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