Earl Thomas may be in jeopardy of losing his job.
According to sources on the ground, Earl Thomas allegedly threw a punch at Chuck Clark during yesterday’s practice. Fights are, of course, a commonality at training camp, but this one was a little different. The coaching staff sent Earl Thomas home after the incident. That is not normal. Training camp skirmishes are rarely ended by sending a player home. This is not Earl Thomas’ first incident with a teammate either. Last year he got into a heated exchange with Brandon Williams after the week 4 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Thomas has also been involved with the police recently. In May, reports surfaced that Thomas was held at gunpoint by his wife after he was caught cheating on her. All this has led to speculation that the Ravens might be ready to part ways with the All-Pro safety.
For the record, the Ravens should not cut Earl Thomas. Not yet anyway.
Character concerns are always one of the biggest red flags in football. In a team sport, relationships between teammates are critical. It often determines whether or not the team has the ability to be great. Thomas is obviously creating some discord, but releasing him is not the best option at this point. He’s causing trouble and disappointed Ravens fans last year by not playing to the same standards he set in Seattle, but Baltimore is in no position to move on.
Cutting Earl Thomas would dump $25,000,000 dead cap money, according to Spotrac.com (yikes). His current cap hit is only $15 million, so releasing Thomas would cost the Ravens $10 million they don’t have (bigger yikes). At this point, it would be more financially prudent to keep Earl Thomas as a benchwarmer all year long than it would be to release him.
But keeping Thomas on the team isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s also about strategic reality. Thomas performed well last year by average NFL standards, but he can be better, much better. If Thomas reaches the heights he did in Seattle, the Ravens will have the best safety in the league. It is simply not worth it to cut Thomas after this scuffle, the move would be premature. If Thomas continues to lash out at his teammates throughout training camp, or into the season, it may then be time to reevaluate his status on the roster. It’s worth remembering, however, that Harbaugh once managed insubordinate players like Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed, who challenged his authority in what can only be described as a mutiny. The Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII later that season, so I think it’s safe to say that wasn’t a long-term problem.
If Harbaugh can handle rebellion in 2012, he can handle Earl Thomas acting like a fool in 2020.
A trade isn’t out of the question, but the Ravens would need to receive serious compensation, a proposition I find hard to believe is realistic at this time. Most teams are comfortable with their rosters and are not likely not trade away a superstar caliber player, or first-round picks in next year’s draft that the Ravens would demand. The most likely trade would involve the Jaguars and Yannick Ngakoue, but we’ve been speculating all year about him, so I’m not going to cry wolf on him.