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Commentary: Earl Thomas’ future is most critical offseason decision for Seahawks

We start with the interesting case of Earl Thomas, with one year left on his current deal with the Seahawks, saying this at Pro Bowl practice this week:

“I won’t allow myself to go out there and risk it all if they’re not having faith in me and a longterm deal. I just gotta protect myself – me and my family. That’s the first thing. Like I said, I don’t feel comfortable just going out there without signing a long-term deal.”

In the world of emojis, this is the one that comes to mind.

And this, in my opinion, will be the most critical offseason decision the Seahawks will make.

Earl will be 29 years old in May. The final year of his contract pays him $10.4 million dollars, including his original signing bonus. Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs made Eric Berry at the same age the highest-paid free safety in the league with a six-year, $78-million dollar contract with $40 million guaranteed. That means Earl will likely be seeking a similar deal, at least with the same amount of guaranteed cash.

That’s a TON of money and a ton of seasons, especially for a team with limited salary cap space – and one that has already limited itself with longterm deals they might be regretting with Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett.

By the way: Berry ruptured his Achilles tendon in the first game of the season, and missed the rest of the year.

The Seahawks have a number of options here: They could free up an extra $8.5 million in salary cap space if they found a willing trade partner. They could also force Earl to play out his current deal but risk a disruptive holdout this season. And because they technically hold all the power here, the Hawks could even go a step further and place the franchise tag on Earl in 2019.

In fact, from a straight contract perspective, I think the Hawks would be best served to force Earl to play out his current deal, franchise him the following season, and then let him walk when you’ve hopefully drafted and groomed his successor.

But I love Earl Thomas. He’s essential for a defense predicated on h
is unique speed on the back end, and he didn’t give me any indications this season that he’s lost a step. So I think you meet him halfway, and offer him no more than a three-year extension, and then hold your ground. You could likely back-log the deal to free up salary cap space for this season as well.

Anything more than a three-year extension would be crippling – and I think that’s where the Seahawks have to draw the line.

Again, I’m nowhere near as qualified, knowledgeable or capable as general manager John Schneider. Nor am I as impulsive, outspoken, passionate and talented as Earl Thomas. Hopefully, both sides can compromise.

But this is a negotiation that could get ugly – because both sides have so much at stake.