It shouldn’t end this way for Earl Thomas. Not like this. Not on a cart leaving the field. Not with a probable broken leg. Not with a hateful finger in the air toward the Seahawks sideline.
One of the greatest players in team history, a safety like no other, a Super Bowl champion, a team icon and a hero to so many Seahawks fans, went out in the worst way imaginable.
The picture that went viral, defiantly making his feelings known, is not what anyone wants to remember if this was his final game in a Seattle uniform.
Thomas was beaten for a game-tying touchdown Sunday in the fourth quarter at Arizona. He went down in the end zone, seemingly knowing a fracture has taken place.
The Seahawks would go on to win the game 20-17 on a 52-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. But it was hard to smile. A contentious last few months had come to a dismal end for Thomas and the Seahawks.
“My heart breaks for him,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after the game. “I love Earl. I’ve always loved him, everything he’s ever done for us, everything he’s stood for. It’s a bittersweet day.”
This is exactly what Thomas feared, the reason he held out all summer. In the final year of a $40 million, four-year deal, he wanted a contract extension before returning to the team.
He didn’t get it, and returned before the season opener, saying he would remember being disrespected. Continuing to hold out would have cost him $500,000 per game.
He was reportedly fined after missing two practices before the Dallas game last week, but went out and had two interceptions in the victory.
Sunday morning, Ian Rapaport, on the NFL Network, reported the Seahawks wanted two second-round draft choices to trade Thomas. Obviously, that won’t happen now.
So Thomas, knowing his worst fears had come true, left the field with a message for the Seahawks management. He looked across the field and gave the finger, a photo that’s gone viral on social media.
Carroll said he didn’t see it.
“Something was said, but I don’t know anything about that,’’ he said. “Earl was extraordinarily poised on the field. He knew what happened. It just breaks my heart we’re talking about this right now.”
Russell Wilson became the winningest quarterback in franchise history with 75 victories, passing Matt Hasselbeck. But Wilson’s thoughts after the game were about Thomas.
“He is one of the greatest players to ever play the game and he’ll come back strong,’’ Wilson said. “It’s an unfortunate situation but we all love him. He will come back at some point and be better.
“I hope I get to play with Earl again. I love who he is as a person. As fans and as people, we sometimes forget this is our livelihood. You hope to play it forever, but it’s never forever. I do believe for Earl it’s not over.”
What happened to Thomas is why NFL players want guaranteed contracts. It’s why they fear going into the final year of a contract without an extension.
However, it’s also true that Thomas has made well over $50 million since becoming a Seahawk eight years ago as a first-round pick from the University of Texas. If he never plays again, he is set for life.
No matter which side you take, this is an ugly way for his Seahawks career to end. No one wanted to see this. Don’t let the image of his finger in the air be the thing you remember.
Thomas gave everything he had on the field on every snap. He made the players around him better. He helped this team win a Super Bowl.
Remember those things, instead.