Over the course of nine seasons in Seattle, Earl Thomas built a legacy that will secure his status as one of the greatest players in Seahawks history.
On Sunday, he’ll return to CenturyLink Field as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, having signed with them as a free agent this offseason. And when Thomas returns to Seattle, it will be Thomas’ entire body of work—the big plays, the competitive nature, the intensity that never wavered—that players and coaches remember, and not any awkwardness with how things ended in Seattle. And players hope fans feel the same way when it comes to welcoming Thomas back to Seattle.
“He did so much for this organization, so much for this team,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner. “He’s a legend here, so I would expect him to be well received. He’s a guy whose jersey will probably be retired, so there should be a lot of respect for him.”
Players change teams every year in the NFL, even future Hall of Famers, so this won’t necessarily feel any different for Pete Carroll than when the Seahawks played against Richard Sherman with the 49ers last year, or against other notable players who have left in free agency or been traded. But even if Carroll has been through similar situations, he is still excited to see Thomas, the second player he and general manager John Schneider drafted in 2010.
“We’ve been through this a number of times,” Carroll said. “I love playing our guys. I always do. I always like playing people that I know. I know that there’s an underlying current of somebody wants some other agenda going on or some other storyline. I don’t have one. I love playing against our guys. Earl was a great football player in the years that he was with us. We loved what he did, his uniqueness, his style of play. The way he practices and focuses was somewhat unmatchable. We just couldn’t stay together forever. We couldn’t figure out how to do that. We wish him the best and we look forward to it. I always like playing the guys we know.”
Of course that “underlying current” Carroll mentions has to do with Thomas’ final season in Seattle and in particular his final game with the Seahawks. After Thomas, who held out in training camp in hopes of getting a new contract, broke his leg in Week 4, he made a now infamous gesture toward Seattle’s sideline as he was being carted off the field.
After that game, Carroll was perhaps as emotional as he has ever been in a press conference as Seattle’s head coach when discussing Thomas’ injury, saying, “I love Earl, I’ve always loved him, I’ve loved everything he has ever done for us, everything he has stood for, how he has been a leader and just the guy out in front always with his unbelievable heart and competitiveness and drive to be great. I’ve admired it the whole time. It wasn’t always smooth, but it has always been good. I’m proud of the relationship that we have. My heart breaks for him.”
A year later, Carroll’s opinion of Thomas has not changed.
“Really from the time we first saw him and watched him play and watched him work out at Texas—running, in the weight room—the way he was competing in that session there, all of the messages started to come through of the kind of character he was,” Carroll said. “He was a very, very unique player and a very unique person to have on the club, and I totally embraced that. I loved the way he was and all that. Whatever happens isn’t going to change what I think about him. I don’t care what’s said or what’s done; I don’t care, he can do what he wants, he’s his own man. But I know what the relationship means to me, and I’ll always be there for him. If he needs me, I’ll be there.”