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With Earl Thomas’ injury, everybody loses

The Seahawks safety gave his sideline the middle finger after breaking his leg because he had already given the team so much more

While being carted off the field after a major injury, most players would be dejected. Earl Thomas, however, was defiant. There was no towel draped over his head to hide tears because there were no tears to be seen. He wasn’t sad for what this season could have been. He was angry for what the season should have been. And he expressed that with a middle finger toward his own sideline.

As expected, many fans and analysts quickly dubbed his gesture as disrespectful and unprofessional. They might be right, but how would you have preferred him to react to an organization that has been disrespectful to him?

When the Seattle Seahawks drafted Thomas out of Texas in 2010, they wanted a good safety. Instead they got a Hall of Fame safety, the brains behind a decade-defining defense and the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. Thomas was an essential part of the Legion of Boom defensive backfield that terrorized opposing offenses. Some stats would suggest he was the most indispensable player on that defense.

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas leaves the field on a cart after suffering a leg injury in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 30.

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

For eight seasons, Thomas was the type of player franchises dream of having. Not only did they get consistently stellar play from him, they got it without any of the distractions that organizations despise. Although teams have shown a willingness to put up with less talented players who put themselves ahead of their teams or have legal issues, there was never a hint of that from Thomas. He has put the game in front of business since day one. On his first day in Seattle, he showed up to the introductory news conference in workout gear, not a suit, as is customary.

Since then he has played in 137 of the team’s 144 regular-season and postseason games. That doesn’t happen unless Thomas plays through injuries and puts the team before his own health. And the game before the business. But that changed after fellow Legion of Boom secondary-mate Richard Sherman was unceremoniously discarded by the team after tearing his Achilles in a season that went nowhere. With that in mind, Thomas put business ahead of the game and held out through training camp, demanding a contract extension or a trade. He returned for the first game without having his demands met.

From the Seahawks’ perspective, not extending Thomas and committing to him long term made sense, especially when all seven of the games he had missed through injury came in the previous two seasons. Even Thomas was willing to accept that he wasn’t in the Seahawks’ long-term plans, so they should have traded him to a team that would have given him the extension he desired. Thomas had earned at least that bit of professional courtesy. Instead, the Seahawks gave him the metaphorical middle finger.

Now, instead of negotiating an extension as a healthy 29-year-old, he will be a 30-year-old free agent coming off a broken leg. It is undeniable that the Seahawks have cost Thomas money. It is impossible to know exactly how much, but it will certainly be two commas’ worth. So, if all Thomas gives them is a finger, they should be grateful.

I understand that he was under contract. And I don’t know how good the trade offers were that Seattle received. The Seahawks didn’t have to do anything. But they should have, not only because Thomas has earned it but also because it would have been better for the Seahawks too.

If winning another Super Bowl is the goal in Seattle, having a disgruntled All-Pro safety on a roster that doesn’t look ready to win now seems counterproductive, especially if he could be traded for draft picks that could turn into players who could contribute in the future.

A vet who is in sync with the organization is a locker room boon. He can maintain the team culture and show young guys how to practice and watch film. But the presence of a scorned vet has the opposite impact. Even if he isn’t actively denigrating the coaches and front office, he’ll be a drag on the locker room.

Anybody who has played football has heard a coach say, “We only want guys here that want to be here, guys that buy in.” It’s normally followed by a threat like, “I don’t care who you are, I’ll ship your a– out of here.” I’d be willing to bet that something like that has been said in Seattle too. If they meant it, everybody would be better off today.

Domonique Foxworth is a writer at The Undefeated. He is a recovering pro athlete and superficial intellectual.