has a rare gift for the game of football. (Jim Dedmon/Icon SMI)
According to multiple reports, the Seattle Seahawks have come to terms on a long-term contract extension with safety Earl Thomas that will make Thomas the highest-paid player at his position. According to Pro Football Talk, the deal will add four years, $40 million and $27.725 million guaranteed to Thomas' Seahawks career. New Orleans safety Jairus Byrd received a six-year, $54 million deal in free agency, when the Saints plucked Byrd away from Buffalo in March. Byrd's contract has $26.3 million in guaranteed money.
Thomas was set to make $4.625 million in base salary in the 2014 season, and he would have been a free agent in 2015. The Seahawks have other major players to sew up in quarterback Russell Wilson and cornerback Richard Sherman, but it's tough to argue that anyone else on that team is more important to its continued success than Thomas.
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Thomas was selected by Seattle with the 14th overall pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, the first for head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. And as Carroll and Schneider built from scratch the team that can now call itself the defending Super Bowl champions, it's been Thomas, as much as anyone, who has helped to define what it is that the Seahawks want to do. Not only has he set his own legacy with three Pro Bowls, two First-Team All-Pro nods and 15 interceptions, but he sets the leadership tone as much as anyone in that locker room.
“Earl has had a big influence,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said before the 2013 season began. “He talks to me every day. He’s always giving me advice and telling me how he did it when he first got into the league. We’re trying to be great and we feel like we can be great together. We’re trying to be similar to Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.”
And to his battery mates in the secondary, there's no question that Thomas is the top dog.
“I think Earl Thomas might have one of the highest football IQs I’ve ever heard of, and he studies the game to a T,” Sherman told me in late January. “He studies it day, night, night and day. In the morning, at night — he’s probably studying it right now. You’ve got Kam Chancellor, who does the same thing, he studies the game to a T. So when you see [strong safety] Kam Chancellor going downhill to make those huge hits and those huge plays, and Earl going to make those, it’s because they know the play is coming. They’re not guessing out there. It’s a real testament to us as a group.”
Like most great defenders, Thomas' game can't be truly and totally defined by his stats -- you have to watch the tape to grasp what kind of effect he has on opposing offenses. Because of his ridiculous closing speed, he's able to find areas and make plays on the field that most players can't.
It's something that Carroll has learned to appreciate.
“Earl is as serious a competitor as you could ever hope to be around,” he said two days before the Seahawks got on a plane from Renton, Wash., to New Jersey for Super Bowl week. “He is in it, and he’s on it and dialed in, and always. Off the field in taking care of himself, on the field his practice and of course his play. They have just grown, and we’ve all kind of grown together. These guys have kind of played together for a while and we benefit from that, but he’s just at the top of his game and we count on him in that fashion and he’s not going to disappoint you.”
Now, he'll try to maintain that standard for several more years in Seattle.
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