The Baltimore Ravens made the difficult decision to release Earl Thomas after an altercation with teammate Chuck Clark. This is reportedly simply the latest incident and the first one to spill over into the public. And like with Thomas's extracurricular events that ended up on TMZ, Thomas took to his own social media to try to get ahead of the story only to make things worse.
Thomas brought more attention to the issue, forcing public scrutiny, which only hastened the Ravens in their decision making process. Players on the Ravens reportedly demanded the team move on from Thomas, that he wasn't a fit with their team and causing issues that his talent couldn't justify.
The Ravens will try to void his $10 million guarantee for this year. This might be when juicier details come out about the behavior of Thomas as the team tries to make the case his conduct was detrimental to the team. If unsuccessful, they are on the hook for $15 million this season for Thomas not to play for them. The Ravens will also owe him $10 million next season in a year when the salary cap may go down due to a drop in league revenue.
This also might be the reason Thomas took to social media. If his teammates wanted him gone, he may have thought to himself he could secure $25 million getting released and then sign somewhere else for another deal getting paid for this season and next twice. With three weeks until the season, it provides plenty of time to shop himself, even if it's only for a year.
Cleveland Browns fans may remember Thomas in Baltimore making a bad read on a play that enabled an 82-yard play to Ricky Seals-Jones or turning it down when Nick Chubb broke his 88-yard touchdown run, but he was still a tremendous player in coverage patrolling the back end of that defense in coverage. Along with Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphries and Chuck Clark, it was arguably the best secondary in the league.
Now, at least in the moment, the Ravens go from Thomas at free safety to former sixth round pick DeShon Elliott who has appeared in six games and has recorded six solo tackles and one pass deflection.
That's a brave stand to take from an organizational standpoint at the behest of the team. Thomas is a three-time All Pro. He will get consideration for the Hall of Fame when his career concludes. For as good as he is, he will end up out of position at times, which is why he got beat against the Browns and that is likely part of what irritated Ravens teammates so much. The issues must have gone far deeper to make this drastic move because this was known before he signed with the Ravens.
The Ravens culture and locker room environment will likely be improved, but the short term cost could prove significant. Unless the Ravens make a move to acquire another free safety, Elliott is now has a giant target, constantly being compared to Thomas. That's unrealistic and completely unfair to Elliott who seemingly had nothing to do with this situation.
The culture and chemistry of the locker room must improve as a result of this move to justify this decision. That might help improve the play of the team overall, which is difficult to document. It's far easier to single out the difference between the play of Elliott and Thomas.
It's difficult to ignore the element of pressure as well. The Ravens went 14-2 last year, sent a dozen players to the Pro Bowl and were dispatched by a more physical Tennessee Titans team in the divisional round of the playoffs. They are carrying heavy expectations this year to not only win in the postseason but win the Super Bowl. That pressure might have increased the stress level, which brought this situation to a boil that much faster.
Mental mistakes, which were at the center of the altercation with Chuck Clark, make it easy to lose trust in a teammate, even one as talented as Thomas. After all, that is a reason the Browns put up 40 on the Ravens at home.
Elliott presumably is more assignment sound. So long as he's in the right spot, his teammates around him can potentially limit his exposure. However, if this doesn't work and that position struggles, it will be re-litigated throughout the season by pundits. And it could expose a divide in the locker room if the move to get rid of Thomas wasn't as universally approved as it currently appears.
As brave a stand as this was to take by the Ravens, nothing guarantees it won't backfire and potentially have massive consequences in a season where their only goal is to win the Super Bowl. The locker room is critically important and achieving that peace and harmony within it, to the extent possible, but it takes talent to win. Maybe they know something about DeShon Elliott that others don't or have a plan to acquire another one, but this becomes a major focus in a season where the rest of the division is trying to topple the Ravens, starting with the Browns in week one.