Earl Thomas Gets Paid

David Banks

One of the NFL's leading Longhorns makes good.

February's demolition of Peyton Manning and the Broncos earned Earl Thomas his first Super Bowl ring. If Earl wants to buy some more bling to accentuate it, it's unlikely that he'll need to use the Dez Bryant Layaway Plan.

The former Longhorn got paid to the tune of a 4 year, $40 million extension from the Seahawks for doing things like this:

Thomas' deal makes him the league's best-paid safety in terms of Average Annual Value (AAV) with a cool $10 million per. His only real competition for Best Centerfield Safety honors, Jarius Byrd, hauled in a 6 year, $54 million contract from the Saints. Thomas' deal has Byrd's beat on total guaranteed money ($28 million to $26 million) and the fact that Thomas is very likely to see every dime, whereas Byrd faces long odds of cashing the combined $17.2 million due him in his age-31 and -32 seasons. In fact, Thomas has a good shot of landing one more big-money deal in his career as he'll only be 29 when this contract is up.

Is he worth it? Getting paid by the Seahawks is one good indicator - the Carroll/Schneider regime is smarter on defense than anyone in the league (we'll just politely cough and ignore their Sidney Rice/Zach Miller foibles on the other side of the ball.) More objective measures are...tough to come by. Baseball has made great strides in assigning objective, dollar-based value to performance while football is still closer to tummy time than to baby steps. I've taken a crack at a performance-based system for the NFL (here's a rough outline of the concept), and it put a price tag of $7.2 million on Thomas' 2013 performance. If that evaluation was dead-solid-perfect (and it certainly isn't), paying $40 million for four years of that performance isn't a bad deal at all. 2015-2018 cap dollars will be undergoing serious inflation according to current projections, while Thomas' athleticism shouldn't suffer any real age-related fall-off during that stretch.

What's more, my system almost certainly understates Thomas' real value. It's largely based on objective measures of his passing-game performance - a melange of cover snaps played to number of times he's targeted, yards allowed per coverage snap, receptions allowed per coverage snap and Yards Per Attempt on balls thrown his way, with touchdowns and interceptions factored in. What the system can't measure is how much Seattle's base, single-high safety scheme demands from Thomas in terms of range, instincts and playmaking ability.

Thomas is a versatile guy, and he's capable of dropping down to cover the slot. Check the above video at 2:51 for a great example of him handling a fade from the slot and turning in a cornerback-caliber hip flip/box-out/high point combo. But the majority of Seattle's defensive looks have Thomas lined up 15-18 yards from the line in centerfield while strong safety Kam Chancellor patrols the box. They work the "you got the box, I got the back" division of labor is well as any safety duo since Tim McDonald and Merton Hanks* for the early-90's 49ers. Chancellor and Seattle's outstanding LBs play up and annihilate the spread passing/quick game concepts that teams like Denver used to destroy lesser secondaries. Richard Sherman and Unsuspended Seahawks Corner Du Jour play Cover One man or Cover Three deep-thirds while getting to cheat against out-breaking routes, and Thomas holds the whole thing together on the back end.

Want to hit a home run on a deep post? Forget it. Thomas is on the case, and his outstanding diagnosis and recognition capabilities mean he's not going to drift if that's where he's supposed to be. Want to take your chances with a one-on-one jump ball against a corner up the sideline? Welp, now it's two-on-one, because Thomas just covered more ground than a dude is supposed to cover and is arriving with the ball (1:30 above - later than usual, but still turning an incompletion into an interception against Larry Fitzgerald.) Want to work the soft zone between the middle linebacker and the deep safety?** Soft zone just got hard, bro - Bobby Wagner and Earl just put your tight end in a vice (5:03 above - Earl says no to Jimmy Graham.) And as a bonus, he's plenty capable against the run (5:53 above - Earl gets a small measure of sweet revenge on Mark Ingram.)

All in all, it's a richly deserved payday for one of the league's most unique and indispensable dudes. Congrats and Hook 'Em, Earl.

*Cowboys Fan Footnote #1 - Fuck Merton Hanks.

**Cowboys Fan Footnote #2 - Also known as Jerry's Free Candy Emporium when the MLB and deep safety in question are Ernie F. Sims and Jeff Heath.

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