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Seattle Seahawks

Larry Stone: Seahawks scenarios with Earl Thomas playing this season seem unlikely

Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas sits on the bench in the second half of an NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 17, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – One by one, they are leaving, Seahawks icons of a glorious era – a run that with every departure looks more and more like it is past tense.

Oh, the Seahawks may be good again, maybe even sooner than we think, and in so doing develop a new nucleus that will capture hearts and perhaps titles.

But the unique, charismatic, sometimes maddening, never dull mix of stars that catapulted the Seahawks to the center of the football world? They are slowly scattering, as is the cold-hearted way of the NFL.

Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, all gone since last year. Only a miracle would bring back Kam Chancellor. And with a single tweet on Sunday morning, Earl Thomas set into a motion a chain of events that almost certainly will ensure that this is the end of one of the great careers in Seahawks history.

Thomas’ decision to stay out of mandatory minicamp, with a threat to miss all team activities until his contract situation is resolved, can be viewed as the reservation on a one-way ticket out of town. Try as I might, I can’t envision any scenario that will result in a reconciliation between Thomas and the Seahawks that ends this impasse.

I asked Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Tuesday if he felt there was a road map to a solution that brings Thomas back to the fold (“Sure. Yeah. I do. There is.”) and if it was feasible (“Sure. Of course it is. Of course it is.”)

I concur with the first part. One way, of course, would be for Thomas to drop his quest for a contract extension, agree to play this season at the $8.5 million base salary that his contract calls for, and take his chances as a free agent next year. Another would be for the Seahawks to capitulate to Thomas’ contract demands and renegotiate his contract.

But I’m highly skeptical about the feasibility of either scenario. Thomas, a prideful man who believes he has outperformed Eric Berry, the game’s highest-paid safety, and thus reportedly wants to earn more than he, is not going to take it this far and then back down. He has made it abundantly clear how deeply this burns within him. Ask Jason Garrett.

And the Seahawks are dug in as well. If they were going to accede to Thomas’s desire, I’d think they would have done it by now, instead of having this pall over their minicamp that might stretch into preseason, and then the regular season. While they have yielded to renegotiations in the final year of contracts before, it is the aspect of this being Thomas’ third contract that appears to be stopping them in this case.

They have the actuarial tables that show that Thomas is at the stage of his career when a downturn is almost inevitable. That’s the price of the rugged, all-out, Hall of Fame brand of football that Thomas has played for them.

I happen to believe that the Seahawks should pay Thomas. I feel he can defy those odds and stay at an elite level for the duration of a long-term contract, or close to it. If the Seahawks want to shorten the downside of this rebuild, or reboot, they are engaging in, the return of a contented Thomas would certainly aid the process.

But it doesn’t matter what I think, which is why this is headed for an end game that will be uncomfortable to watch. If neither side yields, Thomas’ holdout will proceed into training camp and perhaps even the season, interrupted only if the Seahawks find a trade partner. But they didn’t have much luck with that around draft time, supposedly getting no more than a third-round offer.

Perhaps their bargaining power will increase as teams suffer injuries in camp or during the season. Perhaps Thomas will eventually fold, deciding that he is losing too much in fines and potential game checks. Perhaps he is merely trying to make a point now and plans to show up for training camp in late July.

Perhaps. But don’t count on it. What I see is a game of chicken that lasts until one side caves (unlikely) or Thomas is dealt. If it goes the distance, Thomas could follow the blueprint of Duane Brown, who held out until seven weeks into the season, returned to play for the Texans to ensure that his contract didn’t toll for the following year, and then after one game was dealt to the Seahawks for a 2018 third-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick (the Texans received a 2018 fifth-round pick from Seattle).

The Seahawks could also simply release Thomas. They could count on him coming back at midseason to save his free agency in 2019, and then hit him with the franchise tag next year.

All are unsavory scenarios that will mar, at least temporarily, the memory of Thomas’ eight years of brilliance here.

Time has a way of blotting out the dark side, and Thomas will one day take his place in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor and be rightfully revered for what he accomplished.

But in the more immediate future, it appears the relentless sideline-to-sideline brilliance of Thomas in Seattle will be frozen in time.

It’s hard to see this ending well, or ending with Thomas as a Seahawk.