By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Just two days after a physical altercation at practice and subsequent social media posts, the Baltimore Ravens are reportedly looking to move on from All-Pro safety Earl Thomas.
During practice on Friday, a missed coverage assignment by Thomas led to an on-field argument between him and fellow safety Chuck Clark. The two had to be held back, with Thomas reportedly putting his fists up at one point. Thomas was then sent home from practice.
Later that day, Thomas shared a video clip of the play on Instagram, with the caption, “A mental error on my part. A busted coverage that I tried to explain calmly [met] with built-up aggression turned into me getting into with a teammate.”
The post has since been deleted, but others have shared the clip. Thomas is the player beat to the outside. Clark is in the middle of the field, and is the one throwing his helmet down after the play.
This all led up to the report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter Sunday morning that the Ravens plan to move on from Thomas, through either a trade or outright release.
With the 2010’s All-Decade safety now essentially on the open market, should the Patriots look to bring him in? Could they realistically be seen as players in an Earl Thomas sweepstakes?
There’s a lot to like about Thomas’ game, and how it would mesh with the Patriots defense. One of the smartest defensive backs in the league, Thomas’ football IQ and ability to read and anticipate an offense would be an invaluable resource to a young Patriots defense. When Patrick Chung opted out, the Patriots not only lost a solid player but an experienced communicator and veteran set of eyes at the back end of their defense. Thomas would be an excellent replacement in that sense.
Unlike Chung however, who usually plays in the box or near the line of scrimmage, Thomas would be best used as a deep safety. And while the Patriots already have one of the best center fielders in the game in Devin McCourty, they have in recent years used a three-safety alignment on a regular basis, with Chung as the box safety/hybrid linebacker while pairing McCourty with Duron Harmon over the top.
Despite some of their biggest offseason moves coming at the safety position, the Patriots never truly brought in a replacement for Harmon, who was traded to Detroit back in March. Top pick Kyle Dugger and free agent Adrian Phillips are certainly good players, but fit more into the Chung hybrid linebacker role.
Right now, it looks as though the Patriots will need to transition a cornerback (Jason McCourty, Myles Bryant) into the second deep safety role. If the team could acquire Thomas, they could instead look to build on Harmon’s old role (which was used on 65.18-percent of last year’s defensive snaps) and put a major upgrade onto what is already one of the best defensive backfields in football.
Such a move would give Bill Belichick control of arguably the two smartest free safeties in the league patrolling the deep part of the field, to pair with arguably the best man coverage cornerback duo in the game in Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson.
So now the question becomes, is putting this together even possible? Do the Patriots have a chance to land Earl Thomas if they want.
This is where things get a little more complicated. It’s highly unlikely (at best) that the Ravens would willingly trade Thomas to and AFC rival. That being said, it’s unlikely Thomas gets traded at all given that the team acquiring him would also take on the remaining three years on his four-year, $55 million contract.
For a team to trade for Thomas, they would have to be convinced he is worth a long-term, financially significant investment, which given the circumstances doesn’t seem realistic. There are only two elements favoring a trade. One is the massive cap penalties facing Baltimore if Thomas is released ($40 million over the next three years, including $25 million in 2020), which the Ravens could avoid by making a trade. This should lower the asking price. The other is a team that is unlikely to land Thomas when competing in the open market, getting desperate enough to eat the contract to get the player.
For the Patriots to have a shot, Thomas would have to be released. If and when that happens, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys are the favorites to land the 31-year-old. After trying and failing to acquire Jamal Adams earlier this offseason (he ended up going to Thomas’ former team, the Seattle Seahawks), the interest makes sense.
Other potential landing spots named by Rapoport are the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans, although he did add those three teams are “among those inquiring.”
The question is, what kind of deals will these teams be offering? The Patriots plan throughout the offseason has seemed to be to position themselves with the cap space to be strong players in next year’s free agency market, given the financial instability of the majority of the teams in the NFL.
That likely means if the Patriots did go in on Thomas, it would be a one-year offer. Will that be the standard offer to a guy in Thomas who can be seen as somewhat of a risk? Or will a team like the Cowboys go for checkmate and offer multiple years?
If it does come down to one-year deals, the Patriots could certainly make a competitive offer with $31 million in cap space. Would they consider a player who has a history of internal altercations? They did sign Antonio Brown last year after his antics in Oakland.
Meanwhile, would Thomas, who has spent his career playing for known player-friendly coaches in Pete Carroll and John Harbaugh, be willing to give it a go in a new environment like New England? He certainly wouldn’t be the first.
History tells us the Patriots would absolutely consider making a move like this, and if they put in a competitive offer there’s no reason for Thomas to rule them out, especially if no teams offer more than a one-year deal.
So back to our original question, “Could the Patriots end up a landing spot for Earl Thomas?”
They definitely could. All of the pieces are there to make it happen. But given the teams they will be competing against, and their own apparent long-term plans, it’s hard to call them a favorite. Still, it’s never a safe bet to rule out Bill Belichick adding to his defense, especially when talking about a player as smart and experienced as Thomas.