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Earl Thomas Extension Sets Bar for Safeties, Proves Seahawks Are Model Franchise

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Gary DavenportNFL AnalystApril 29, 2014

Late last week, word began circulating that the Seattle Seahawks were on the verge of making one of their young defensive backs the highest-paid player at his position in the National Football League.

Sure enough, Monday rolled around, and the Seahawks did just that. Granted, it wasn't the player we thought it would be, but in locking up free safety Earl Thomas, the Seahawks not only took a big step toward keeping "The Legion of Boom" intact but also demonstrated again why they're viewed as a model franchise in many respects.

Even if it was one very expensive demonstration.

As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported, the Seahawks agreed to terms with Thomas on one whopper of a four-year contract extension:

It's a deal that makes 24-year-old Thomas the NFL's highest-paid safety. The gap between Thomas and Jairus Byrd of the New Orleans Saints isn't all that close.

NFL's Highest-Paid Safeties
PlayerTeamAverage Salary
Earl ThomasSEA$10 million
Jairus ByrdNO$9 million
Eric BerryKC$8.3 million
Dashon GoldsonTB$8.3 million
Eric WeddleSD$8 million
Spotrac

Make no mistake, $10 million a season is a lot of money for a safety. Some will say it's too much.

Still, Earl Thomas isn't just any safety. Not even close.

Earl Thomas Career Stats
YearTacklesSacksINTFFPFF Rank*
2013950529th
20126103134th
2011780218th
20107205127th
Pro Football Focus

In 2013, Thomas set career highs in tackles (95) and forced fumbles (two). He tied a career high with five interceptions. Thomas' ninth-place finish among safeties at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) was the second time in three years Thomas has cracked the top 10, and he placed third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting.

The Seattle secondary sets the tone for the entire defense, and it's no coincidence that in Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman, the Seahawks have arguably the league's best players at their respective positions.

In fact, NFL Network's Rich Eisen went one better where Thomas is concerned:

Now, two of those core players (Thomas and Chancellor) are signed through 2017 (at least), and the team will now turn its attention to the next man up in Sherman:

It's not going to be especially easy. If La Canfora is correct and Sherman does become the NFL's highest-paid cornerback, that will place his annual salary north of the $12 million Darrelle Revis is set to receive from the New England Patriots this year.

That's $30 million in salary-cap space tied up in three defensive backs.

Never mind that a certain quarterback will be eligible to scrap his rookie deal after the 2014 season.

With that said, though, general manager John Schneider hasn't been shy about his intentions. Before the Seahawks had even lifted the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLVIII, Rapoport was reporting (via colleague Gregg Rosenthal) that Schneider indicated Thomas was "the first priority" this offseason.

From all indications, Sherman's new deal will follow shortly thereafter, with the 26-year-old telling NFL Network's Albert Breer (per NFL.com's Marc Sessler), "It's all about respect in this game, and the only way people respect is the dollars." 

It's a big investment, especially with Russell Wilson's impending megadeal on the horizon, but given how dominant the Seattle secondary was against the most prolific offense in NFL history in the Super Bowl, it's an easy decision to make.

Because sometimes running a franchise the right way is as easy as knowing when not to fix what isn't broken, expensive as that may be.

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