Potential Landing Spots for Earl Thomas After Ravens Release All-Pro Safety

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2020

Baltimore Ravens free safety Earl Thomas reacts while being introduced onto the field prior to a NFL football preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Associated Press

Free safety Earl Thomas had a bounce-back season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2019. However, the latest chapter of his seemingly storybook return will see him playing elsewhere after he was reportedly involved in a physical altercation with a teammate Friday.

Two years ago, the three-time first-team All-Pro's career reached a low point. He held out of Seattle Seahawks training camp while seeking a contract extension or a trade. He reported for Week 1, only to suffer a season-ending broken leg in Week 4.

Thomas left Seattle last offseason, signed his big-money deal with the Ravens and was named to his seventh Pro Bowl. While his 2019 didn't end with a Super Bowl appearance, the Ravens went 14-2 and appeared poised to make another strong run this season.

That run will not happen with Thomas in the secondary. According to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, Thomas "threw a punch at [Chuck] Clark when the fellow safety got on him for blowing a coverage" and has since been asked to stay away from the team facility and was later released from the team on Sunday per ESPN's Adam Schefter

Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero

My understanding is the #Ravens told Earl Thomas to stay home today after sending him home Friday following the practice altercation with teammate Chuck Clark. No decisions yet on his status, but keeping Thomas away for now buys time for Baltimore to evaluate its options.

That punch didn't sit well with Thomas' teammates, per Zrebiec:

"According to team sources, the incident angered many prominent Ravens, who consider Clark to be an ideal teammate, and resulted in the team's decision to tell Thomas to stay home from Saturday's practice as it mulls the next course of action with the seven-time Pro Bowl safety. Clark did participate in Saturday's practice."

Thomas also missed or was late to several position and team meetings last season, per Zrebiec. If the Ravens are growing tired of him, they could use his latest actions as an out, one year after signing him to a four-year, $55 million contract.

There's $25 million in dead money on the deal for 2020, and Thomas' $10 million base salary is fully guaranteed. 

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

Sources: The #Ravens are planning to release or trade star S Earl Thomas. Either way, it appears his time in Baltimore is coming to an end.

Thomas' release begs the question: Where will he play next?


Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is no stranger to making a splash, and adding Thomas late in the offseason would certainly qualify as one.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Cowboys are considered the leading contender to sign Thomas when and if he is released.

While Dallas added safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, adding Thomas to further shore up the secondary would make a lot of sense.

Though the Cowboys ranked a respectable 10th in passing yards allowed last season, they snagged just seven interceptions. Thomas, who has 30 career picks and 12 forced fumbles, would bring more big-play potential to the back end.

While signing Thomas to a long-term deal could be difficult—quarterback Dak Prescott is scheduled to be on the open market in the offseason—adding him for the 2020 season is not financially out of the question.

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

The #Cowboys freed up more than $3M in cap space with the release of DT Gerald McCoy. They freed up more space ($7.1M) by restructuring LT Tyron Smith. Dallas has more than enough room for Earl Thomas when he’s released by the #Ravens. And there is interest.

Expect the Cowboys to act quickly once Thomas becomes available.


Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have lacked a playmaker on the back end since they traded Minkah Fitzpatrick last September. Bobby McCain played respectably in 2019, but Thomas would bring a little more impact to the Dolphins secondary.

McCain, meanwhile, has experience at cornerback and could still be utilized as a rotational player in head coach Brian Flores' defense.

While Thomas might not initially be interested in landing with a rebuilding franchise, Miami could intrigue him. He'd get to play for a defensive head coach and alongside two excellent cornerbacks in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. He would also land a potentially hefty contract in a state with no income tax.

Miami still has nearly $21 million in cap space remaining.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If Thomas insists on landing with a contender, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be an option. They're expected to be in the Super Bowl hunt for as long as quarterback Tom Brady remains with the team, and they could use help at safety.

Justin Evans is working his way back from a torn Achilles, while the tandem of Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards was merely serviceable last season. The Buccaneers ranked 30th in passing yards allowed, despite getting solid contributions from rookie cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean.

Tampa did use a second-round draft pick on Antoine Winfield Jr. However, Thomas could provide a veteran presence on the back end and help tighten up the Buccaneers' pass defense in the middle. He would also fit with the aggressive play-calling of coordinator Todd Bowles.

The caveat is that the Buccaneers have $1.7 million in available cap space. While Thomas may be persuaded to take a team-friendly pact—the money owed by Baltimore and the lack of a Florida state tax would aid the sales pitch—the Buccaneers would still have to free up a bit of cap space to make a deal work.

The Bucs are firmly in win-now mode, though, so the possibility cannot be dismissed.


San Francisco 49ers

49ers cornerback Richard Sherman
49ers cornerback Richard ShermanAric Crabb/Associated Press/Associated Press

While Thomas wouldn't get any tax breaks by playing for the San Francisco 49ers, he would get two chances this year for sweet, sweet revenge on the Seahawks team that tossed him aside in 2018.

The 49ers would also provide him with a shot to chase a championship and to reunite with former Legion of Boom member Richard Sherman. And while San Francisco re-signed Jimmie Ward to a three-year deal this offseason, it should still have interest in Thomas.

Ward has had an up-and-down career and a fairly significant injury history. He has appeared in all 16 games only once and has missed 19 contests over the past three years. If nothing else, the 49ers should covet Thomas as a rotational player and bit of veteran insurance.

This pairing would make sense schematically too. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh—who served as a Seahawks defensive assistant from 2011 to 2013—relies heavily on a Cover 3 system that's similar to the one in which the Legion of Boom first thrived.

Thomas might not be guaranteed a full-time starting role in San Francisco, but the 49ers could offer him the best combination of familiarity, playoff opportunity and—with $10.3 million in cap space—strong compensation. If Baltimore parts with Thomas, this might be his ideal next stop.


Cap and contract information via Spotrac.