Earl Thomas is arguably the best defensive player to have ever played for the Seattle Seahawks. His ability to create big plays and cover the entire field is unlike anything that this era of Seahawk fans had ever seen before. Yes, the entire “Legion of Boom” and Seattle’s defense has been amazing throughout the Pete Carroll era. However, many people fail to realize that he was the glue holding the entire defense together.
Thomas was the 14th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft; he played his college ball at the University of Texas. From the time he stepped on the field as a Seahawk, he was immediately an impact player. He plays with an intensity unmatched by any other free safety in the NFL. His ability to always be around the ball and defend every blade of grass is what makes him one of the elite safeties.
One of the main reasons the Hawks could call their cover three defense repeatedly during their Super Bowl runs is because he was always playing center field. This allowed our cornerbacks to cheat on shorter routes and take more chances because they knew he would usually be in the right position to cover their mistake if they guessed wrong.
The cover three is a fairly simple defensive concept. The two cornerbacks are supposed to match up and guard the two receivers on the outside, or edges of the field. The cornerback’s main responsibility is to guard the deep ball on the sidelines and make sure that they don’t get beat over the top. The strong safety plays in the area of a linebacker and hits anyone coming across the short middle of the field. The free safety is supposed to guard the deep middle of the field and help the cornerbacks if they get beat over the top.
He played the free safety position and did much more than cover the deep middle of the field. He literally covered the field sideline to sideline and even stepped up and filled the right lanes in the run game. If another Hawks player made a mistake he would instantly make a play and stop the bleeding. Without him, Seattle’s vaunted cover three defense would just be ordinary.
He made every single player in the Seahawks secondary more effective. Take Richard Sherman for example. Sherman always liked to cheat on routes and run one step behind the receiver in order to create turnovers. He was amazing at this. Nevertheless, if Thomas wasn’t playing center field, an opposing quarterback could have just thrown a bomb down the sideline for an easy touchdown. Sherman never had elite speed to keep up with the fastest receivers in the NFL, but with Thomas playing behind him, the quarterback had to second guess the throw. And in the NFL, that split-second is the difference between a touchdown and a turnover.
I have purposely left stats out of this article because no amount of statistics can truly convey how important he was to the Seattle defense. He is a speeding bullet of a player who also can lay down a mean hit. Remember the hit that he had against Rob Gronkowski in 2016? Gronk was literally knocked out of the game with a bruised lung and sternum. In the stat sheet that hit doesn’t show up; in real life that hit is a tone-setter.
Another example of this was a play in 2014 when he punched the ball out of the hands of St. Louis Rams running back Benny Cunningham at the one-yard line. This fumble essentially clinched the game for the Hawks. In the stat sheet, all this shows up is as a forced fumble. In reality, it is a game clinching play.
Even this year, amid contract disputes, he continued to be an elite playmaker. In the season opener against the Denver Broncos, he would have forced two interceptions on the first two drives of the season if Bradley McDougald didn’t drop an easy pick.
In what will most likely be Thomas’ last home game as a Seahawk, he had two interceptions against the Dallas Cowboys including a one-handed interception to seal yet another victory for the Hawks. If you look at the stat sheet it will show that he had two picks in this game. If you watched this game, you know that the Cowboys were starting to gain momentum and if they scored a touchdown on this drive the game would have been 24-20. This would have placed an immense amount of pressure on a Seattle team who was still 0-2 at the time. Instead, instant victory.
I’m not here to analyze his contract situation and all the drama surrounding this scenario. I understand both sides of the argument and there really is no right answer. Every person can come to a different conclusion based on their ethical principles.
What I can say is that I will miss watching Thomas play for the Seahawks. I think it is time to forget about all the negativity surrounding this situation and realize that we all may have just witnessed the greatest free safety in NFL history.
It’s sad that it had to end with an injury and an inappropriate gesture, but I do hope that one day both sides can forgive each other and move on. It would be a huge loss to the entire Pacific Northwest if Earl Thomas’ jersey is not hanging in the rafters of CenturyLink Field one day.
Number 29, you will be missed.