RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday that he wished star free safety Earl Thomas was taking part in the team’s offseason program as opposed to staying away as he seeks a new contract.
That was about as negative as Carroll got on the subject of Thomas’ holdout, which the All-Pro announced on social media over the weekend. It was otherwise business as usual for Carroll and the Seahawks as they began their three-day mandatory minicamp.
Carroll began his news conference by ribbing a local media member who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy about a one-handed sideline catch made at the end of practice by wide receiver Keenan Reynolds, a product of the Naval Academy.
On the field, the Seahawks continued to rotate Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson in alongside Bradley McDougald as the first-team safeties, as they did during voluntary organized team activities in Thomas’ absence.
“I kinda had heard that he was making that choice,” Carroll said when asked for his reaction to learning that Thomas would be holding out. “I wish he was here. That would be nice. But we’re focusing on the guys that are here, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Carroll said he last spoke with Thomas a couple weeks ago but didn’t elaborate. Asked if he believes Thomas still is mentally engaged, Carroll said: “Yeah. Earl doesn’t know any other way. He gives you everything he’s got,” before adding the caveat, “when he’s with you.”
By skipping minicamp, Thomas is subject to up to $84,435 in fines over all three days. That may help explain why defensive end Frank Clark and cornerback Byron Maxwell were present Tuesday after staying away from voluntary OTAs.
Thomas, a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro selection, is entering the final year of a four-year, $40 million extension. He was the NFL’s highest-paid safety in terms of annual average when he signed the deal in 2014 but has since fallen to sixth, with the Kansas City Chiefs‘ Eric Berry topping the list at $13 million per year and teammate Kam Chancellor ($12M) also among those who have surpassed him.
Chancellor signed that extension last summer but is awaiting further testing to determine if he can play again following a career-threatening neck injury suffered in November. Michael Bennett‘s extension from late in the 2016 season is another one that didn’t pan out, with Seattle trading the Pro Bowl defensive end to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason.
Carroll was asked if Seattle’s approach with Thomas, 29, is at all informed by what happened the last time it gave big-money extensions to players nearing or over the age of 30.
“Everything counts,” he said. “We take everything into account. Like I said, [these are] individual cases. Each player is unique in his own way. Earl couldn’t be a more unique player than he is. He’s been a great player for us and a great contributor and always, always answered the bell whenever. The only time he’s ever missed was that time he broke his leg [in 2016], but other than that he has been a great player for us and we only expect that from him.”
Thomas missed five games in 2016 and two last year. McDougald, a former starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers whom Seattle signed last offseason and re-signed to a three-year deal in March, started at free safety while Thomas was out last year. He finished the season at strong safety once Chancellor went down.
The Seahawks have been using him at both spots this offseason, most often with Hill playing strong safety but at times with McDougald there and Thompson at free safety.
“Bradley has really taken the lead, just as he did last year when he played,” Carroll said. “He just picked right up and came in. He’s started a lot of football games in the league. He’s got a lot of background and it shows. Very confident. He’s a good communicator and he helps people just like our guys need to. So he’s just embraced that from the first day. So that’s not a problem at all.”
In 2017, Seattle drafted Hill in the third round out of Michigan, and Thompson in the fourth out of Colorado.
“When we picked them a couple years ago, we thought that someday they’re going to be players out here,” Carroll said. “And so they’re making their pitch.”
Seattle also has veteran Maurice Alexander among its safeties. The former Los Angeles Rams starter signed a one-year deal with Seattle in the offseason but hasn’t done much during offseason work while rehabbing a shoulder injury.
“Mo’s an exciting player to add in here, too,” Carroll said. “He’s a big hitter, real physical kid, played a lot of football, so he brings experience and toughness, and he’s almost 230 pounds. He’s a big kid back there. So it’s a good group. It’s a really good group.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson said he wished Thomas — whom he called “one of the best players ever to step on the football field” — was with the team while being careful not to get into his contractual business.
Wilson was asked if it matters that Thomas isn’t here.
“Does it matter? I think it matters, obviously,” Wilson said. “It’s one of your best players on the team. But I think that ultimately, I know more than anything else that Earl knows how to prepare. There’s no better player in terms of safety and really out of most of the defensive players I’ve ever played [against] that knows how to prepare better than him. So I’m not concerned about his preparation. I know that he’ll translate that and be ready to play when it’s time.”
There’s been no indication that the Seahawks are at all interested in giving Thomas a new contract, which means there’s no telling when that time will come.
Carroll was asked if he expects Thomas to be back by Week 1.
“Well see,” Carroll said. “We’ll see what happens.”