The Ravens made their first big splash in free agency on Wednesday afternoon by signing veteran safety Earl Thomas to a four-year deal worth $55 million.
As usual, the free agency period opened this week with many flashy signings and trades. For Baltimore, the first few hours of free agency were all about departures as the Ravens saw C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, and John Brown all walk away for bigger contracts with other teams. All three of these losses were somewhat expected for different reasons, but it still left the Ravens depleted on day one with their work cut out for them.
The Ravens also decided to part ways with Michael Crabtree and Eric Weddle earlier this month, creating even more holes to fill going into 2019. Thomas is the first of hopefully many additions either in free agency or the draft that will help fill these gaps.
If you don’t know who Thomas is, you should by now. The soon to be 30-year-old safety has been a part of the Seattle Seahawks defense since 2010. While in Seattle, Thomas played alongside other defensive standouts like Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor to help form what would be known as the “legion of boom.”
Baltimore fans should remember this defensive unit well as they were often compared to the all-time great defenses like the 2000 Ravens and the 1985 Bears when they went on a Super Bowl run in 2013. The legion of boom hit hard, forced a lot of turnovers, and made you earn every yard either thorough the air or on the ground. Their crowning achievement was proving that defense can still win championships in the modern NFL when they shut down Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Just like the man he is replacing, Thomas’ track record as a feared defender makes him a perfect fit for Baltimore’s strong defensive identity. However, I do have my doubts when it comes to Thomas mainly because of his age and recent injury history.
Thomas has suffered two season-ending injuries in the last three years. In 2016 a broken tibia made the veteran consider retirement but he would ultimately return for week one of 2017. Last season Thomas was sidelined once again after breaking his left leg in week four against the Cardinals. The emotion of the moment boiled over for Thomas and led to the now infamous photo of him giving the middle finger to his sideline as he was carted off the field. The frustration here seemed to stem from the offseason when Thomas held out of training camp and the preseason in an attempt to get the Seahawks to renegotiate his contract or trade him to another team.
Now that Thomas finds himself out of Seattle and playing on a deal he likes, I don’t expect him to be an issue in the locker room or hold the team back with any actions similar to what he displayed in 2018. The injuries, on the other hand, are a big concern since he has not played a full 16 games since 2015.
I had my issues with Weddle, but to his credit he never missed a start in Baltimore. Those two prominent injuries for Thomas should be considered freak accidents but he has also struggled with some hamstring injuries in the last three seasons that led to missed time. I admire Thomas’ heart and drive to overcome these injuries but I question if this is the right addition for a Ravens defense after moving on from another older safety.
In a lot of ways this is the type of move I would expect to see from Ozzie Newsome but Eric DeCosta has done something slightly different that I really like. Thomas will get $32 million of his $55 million guaranteed but $22 million of that will be paid in the next nine months. The extreme front-loading of this contract will act as a security net and help the Ravens down the road if they need to move on from Thomas for any reason. The Ravens actually have the ability to front-load after clearing up a lot of money this offseason so I am happy to see them take advantage.
This is a decent move. I was content with promoting either Chuck Clark or DeShon Elliot to the starting safety position if the Ravens found themselves too consumed with filling other needs. Elliot is also coming off of a season-ending injury and Clark remains unproven, so bringing in a veteran to start and help guide them doesn’t hurt. Even if the move doesn’t work out for the best, the contract structure gives the team an out which is the biggest factor in me liking the move.
I expect Thomas to fit in well with the Ravens defense. He will likely play the same role that Weddle did under Wink Martindale’s system by basically being an on-field coordinator. I think he will mesh well alongside Tony Jefferson while also helping younger players like Elliot who is University of Texas product just like Thomas.
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