The Baltimore Ravens officially released Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas on Aug. 23. The move comes days after NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that Thomas got in a scuffle with fellow safety Chuck Clark and was sent home from practice. Shortly after the altercation, sources told CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora that “the team’s Leadership Council made it clear to decision makers they would prefer Thomas not be around.”
The four-year, $55 million contract Thomas signed with Baltimore as a free agent last year paid out $13.75 million annually. In terms of annual salary, that made Thomas the fifth-highest paid safety in the NFL. For a 30-year-old defensive back coming off a season-ending fractured leg, it was a massive payday.
Thomas already made slightly over $22 million in the first year of his deal. No other season on the contract accounted for more than $12 million, and the Ravens only owed Thomas $10 million if he spent 2020 in Baltimore. However, the Ravens plan on targeting Thomas’ salary.
Per the team’s official Twitter account, Baltimore released Thomas “for personal conduct that has adversely affected the Baltimore Ravens.” The phrasing is important because it shows Baltimore believes it can deny Thomas his $10 million salary. If the safety is guilty of conduct detrimental to the organization, the Ravens don’t have to pay him.
Spotrac projected that releasing Thomas would generate $25 million in dead cap over the next two years. If the Ravens traded the Pro Bowl safety, they would’ve accumulated $15 million in dead cap, with $5 million coming in 2020 and $10 million in 2021. However, if the Ravens win their grievance against Thomas, the team dodges the $25 million in dead cap and takes the same hit they would’ve if Baltimore traded Thomas.
The Ravens have a strong case in their detrimental conduct claim as well. A recent article by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley detailed a laundry list of offenses that support Baltimore’s allegations against Thomas. According to Hensley’s sources, Thomas “confronted nose tackle Brandon Williams after a loss to Cleveland 11 months ago. Thomas also missed or was late to several meetings throughout his 17 months in Baltimore.”
With Thomas headed toward free agency, DeShon Elliott steps into the starting role alongside Clark. Baltimore drafted Elliott in the sixth-round two years ago. He’s never started a game and only made six appearances in 2019. The Ravens allowed the sixth-fewest passing yards per game last season.
Thomas released a statement after the news of his release became public,
“I appreciate the Ravens organization for the opportunity. Had a great run .. Wish things would have ended different but you live and you learn. Thank you Eric DeCosta and everyone else who played a role in bringing me to B-More. Wish you guys the best.”
As a free agent, Thomas should quickly find a new home. The regular season is only weeks away, so interested teams must move quickly. The Dallas Cowboys are frontrunners in the race, especially since rumors linking Thomas to Dallas emerged three years ago. Thomas even said, “Please, the Cowboys, come get me,” in an interview on Dec. 24, 2017, when his contract situation with Seattle remained in flux.
At 31 years old, Thomas is past his prime and building a negative résumé. While he’ll find a new landing spot soon, he won’t sign another deal on par with the one Baltimore gave him. Character and leadership questions could cause more problems as teams evaluate the new free agent’s value.
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