The facts: On Friday at Ravens practice, starting strong safety Chuck Clark and free safety Earl Thomas had to be separated by teammates and coaches, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. It lasted a while, and they kept trying to get at each other, and a helmet was thrown, and Clark was kicked out of practice with 10 minutes left. Now, training-camp fights are not that strange; they happen every week. I’ve seen a lot of them over the years. Can’t say I’ve seen many fights between two players from the same position group, never mind two starters at the interchangeable safety positions. In fact, I do not recall seeing two players from the same position get into it in camp. It’s potentially cancerous for two guys who have to sit in the same meetings every day. The Ravens, after considering it for the next 36 hours (and after consulting with the team’s veteran players council), fired Thomas on Sunday morning.
So in the span of 23 months, one of the best safeties of his era, a man who will one day get serious consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been involved in three untoward incidents. After breaking his leg as a Seattle safety in 2018 in Dallas, he gave Seahawks coach Pete Carroll the finger as he left the field, apparently upset that the team wouldn’t give him a new contract. Last April, his wife was arrested for assault in Texas; TMZ reported she found Earl and his brother in bed with another woman and threatened to shoot Earl in the head. And now the altercation on the Ravens’ practice field with a fellow leader in the secondary.
A few things to know about the Thomas release:
• He was not well-liked by his teammates. He had a pattern of being late, and in a recent practice, he made multiple assignment errors, causing defensive teammates to confront him about his preparedness. He missed at least one walk-through with no valid excuse. When the incident at Friday’s practice happened, very few if any teammates came to his defense. Teammates backed Clark, the significantly lesser name.
• The money will hurt Baltimore—a $15-million cap charge this year and $10 million next year for Thomas to not play for them, unless they win a grievance to get some of the money back.
• The grievance process will be fascinating. The union represents Thomas, but also Chuck Clark—and also the rest of the Ravens who are not on Thomas’ side. What if more comes out about this dispute that shows Clark to clearly be the aggrieved victim, for instance? Can the NFLPA stand up for both Thomas and his apparent sworn enemy? This will be a fascinating case to follow.
For the Seahawks and Ravens to both cut ties with Thomas is notable in the first place. Seattle in noteworthy for looking the other way on problem players. Baltimore less so—but it’s notable that these two teams have been sniffing around problematic free-agent receiver Antonio Brown. In both places, if you can play, you can survive the messes you make. Without question, if this was a one-time event in Baltimore, it’s likely Ravens coach John Harbaugh and GM Eric DeCosta could have dismissed this as a heat-of-battle thing, moved on and made peace. The fact that Thomas got fired Sunday, when he’s still playing top-level safety and the Ravens are serious Super Bowl contenders, says everything you need to know: Thomas was a problem and the Ravens just got tired of it.
Finally, what do these four men have in common: Harbaugh, DeCosta, Carroll and Seattle GM John Schneider? They’re four people at the top of their professions. Schneider and DeCosta are top 10 NFL GMs, Harbaugh and Carroll top 10 NFL coaches. Answer: All four were part of decisions that ridded teams of Earl Thomas.
Could all four be wrong? Doubt it sincerely. Thomas is a great player, and he’ll likely get another chance, soon. (Dallas is interested, per Adam Schefter.) But Baltimore wanted Thomas gone so much that the Ravens were willing to take a disastrous $15-million cap hit by doing it now. Buyer beware with Thomas.