A way to satisfy Earl, the Seahawks, and you

Three tough customers if there ever were any. But if we pulled it off contractually with Russell Wilson three years ago, pretty sure we can do it again.

What I won’t go into today: trade scenarios and extended holdout scenarios. Did you not even read the headline? We’re aiming for exceeds-Mick-Jagger levels of satisfaction. Think two Snickers bars, not just one.

Earl Thomas is worth a lot of money. He’s one of the three best safeties in the game.

Earl Thomas wants a lot of money. He’s, well, aware that he’s good. It wouldn’t be very Earl Thomas of him to give us false modesty, or to deceive himself as to his abilities. He’s a Hall of Fame level safety. We know it, he knows it. It is known.

Earl Thomas wants to be here. Yes, in Seattle. Yes, in a Seahawks uniform. You want him to be here. AND: the Seahawks want him to be here. Just not at any price. So what if I say there’s a deal to be made that satisfies everyone?

Eric Berry is the highest-paid safety in the NFL. He’s in the second year of a 6/78 contract that pays him (math!) $13 million annually. But Berry’s deal is misleading, like many other contracts before and since. After the 2018 season, only $2.95 million of his salary is guaranteed. You read that right. Less than three million secure after this coming season. He’s not protected long-term; the contract is made to look much more attractive than it really is.

You can do the same dance with Earl. You can craft a win-win-win situation out of a holdout that looks like a lose-lose-lose situation. Only you can bump up the years, inflate the average annual value (AAV), backload it, and still give him more than Berry in two ways: in real security and in real immediate dollars. You can do right by him and by the team.

(Quick aside: if you think the top athletes don’t compare salary size, might as well stop reading now. However. Please don’t stop reading now. Our Little Pode That Can needs your eyeballs.)

The structure of an Earl extension could be done over four new years. Five is possible too, but four is a good starting point. A 4/56 with $29 million guaranteed sounds crazy a first glance, right? It’s more than Berry, it’s the most in the league by an entire annual million, plus more than half of it is guaranteed. It checks all the boxes for Earl. So why would the Seahawks agree to this?

Because they can make the structure work for them.

2018: no change, pay him the $10 million he’s under contract for

2019: $5 million base salary, $4 million prorated bonus. Cap hit: $9 million

2020: $9 million base, $4 million bonus, Cap hit: $13 million

2021: $12 million base, $4 million bonus. Cap hit: $16 million

2022: $14 million base, $4 million bonus. Cap hit: $18 million

In this fictional but realistic scenario, the last two years, the scary-looking ones, are not guaranteed. The signing bonus still takes a toll on the cap at the end, but the entire salary for 2021 and 2022 is easy to get out from. If the Seahawks want to bid adieu to Earl after 2020, they can do it with a paltry $8 million dead money charge.  Which they might, since there are some dollars earmarked for Russell Wilson next decade. Some. And Earl will have 11 seasons of pro football on his body by then. That’s a lot of wear and tear, especially for someone who plays with this level of abandon:

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In the meantime, though, the Seahawks would end up paying Thomas a bargain amount of $32 million for the next three seasons. I cannot stress strongly enough how good of a deal this would be for the Seattle front office. It doesn’t take up inordinate cap space, it still allows them to pursue extensions for Frank Clark and Bobby Wagner, it respects the idea that other positions are more valuable than safeties. I’M SORRY EARL THE TRUTH STINGS SOMETIMES BUT YOU KNEW THAT YOU BEAUTIFUL MAN

I also can not stress strongly enough how good of a deal this is for Earl, on the surface and in the details. $29 million guaranteed alleviates the real concerns he’s seen first-hand, as a front-row witness to the financial, physical or personal implosion of every other original LOB member’s career.

And, finally, it’s a great deal for the fans. For all the praise Pete Carroll has been heaping on Tedric Thompson at camp, T2 is no Earl Thomas. He might be a reasonably good safety someday, but the path to 12-3-1 includes an Area 29 alien patrolling the field.

For all the reasons outlined above, it seems inevitable to me that at this point, the Seahawks and Earl will hammer out an understanding and he’ll be in uniform for Week 1. That’s not a hot take, it’s just common sense. Which is sometimes a hot take. Welcome to the modern world.

P.S.: Reference: my good friends at overthecap dot com and specifically their safety salary page.