Earl Thomas, one of the first players drafted by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, and one of the most accomplished players in franchise history, is leaving Seattle after nine seasons, having agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent when the new league year began Wednesday.
Thomas, the No. 14 overall pick in the 2010 draft, became the second player drafted by the current regime following tackle Russell Okung, the No. 6 overall selection. He took over the starting job from Day 1 and didn't miss a single game, preseason, regular season or playoffs, during his first six seasons, a streak that finally came to an end in 2016. In a story Carroll has told on a few occasions, Thomas was nearly benched at one point during his rookie season, the result of him taking too many risks, but he eventually settled down to become a key part of a historically great defense that helped the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII and make it back to the Super Bowl a year later. During Thomas' nine seasons in Seattle, the Seahawks won four NFC West titles and made the playoffs seven times.
While Thomas' career will continue in Baltimore, his legacy in Seattle as an all-time great is secure. As Schneider put it at the NFL Scouting Combine last month, "he's going to be one of those dudes that's up on the Ring of Honor."
Carroll said of Thomas at the combine, "He has been an extraordinary player for us and part of everything that we've done. The fact that he's at the end of his contract, it's his choice now what he gets to do, that's what free agency is all about. I'm all for whatever Earl decides; he has been a fantastic part of everything, and I'm rooting for him."
Thomas' 2018 was a complicated one that ultimately didn't go as he or the Seahawks would have had hoped, with a broken leg ending his season in Week 4. Yet while things weren't always perfect—Thomas held out in training camp hoping to get a new deal—Carroll was emotional when talking about Thomas following his season-ending injury.
"I love Earl, I've always loved him, I've loved everything he has ever done for us, everything he has stood for, how he has been a leader and just the guy out in front always with his unbelievable heart and competitiveness and drive to be great," Carroll said after Seattle's Week 4 win in Arizona. "I've admired it the whole time. It wasn't always smooth, but it has always been good. I'm proud of the relationship that we have. My heart breaks for him."
Thomas, whose 28 interceptions are the sixth most in franchise history, earned Pro Bowl honors six times, has been named first-team All Pro three times, and second-team All Pro twice. Along with fellow 2010 draft pick Kam Chancellor, as well as cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, Thomas was part of the original "Legion of Boom" secondary that helped lead the Seahawks to unprecedented heights.
With Thomas playing a crucial role on the back end of Seattle's defense, the Seahawks led the NFL in scoring defense for four straight seasons from 2012-2015, something never before accomplished in the Super Bowl era. In 2013, the Seahawks led the league in total defense, scoring defense, pass defense and takeaways, a big reason why that team earned the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
And for all of his physical talents, Thomas' intensity and focus might have been his defining trait during his time in Seattle. Thomas is the kind of player who sometimes wore a mouth guard and cleats during walkthroughs; he could tune out the world before a game or practice, listening to music as he got into what he liked to call his "flow state;" and in 2014 he admitted that things got heated at a walkthrough between him and some defensive teammates because he got mad at some teammates for chewing sunflower seeds.
"He was more fiercely competitive than I could have anticipated," Carroll said in 2014. "Just extremely competitive, high-strung personality, just driven. … Honestly, I wish I was as competitive as him."
Receiver Doug Baldwin once described Thomas by saying, "He's so passionate about the game of football, he loves it with all of his heart, so he puts everything he has into it, and you can tell on a day-to-day basis.
"What makes him unique is just his unwavering focus, day in and day out. Whether it be in the meeting room, on the practice field and obviously in the game, he has an unwavering focus."
Thomas will begin a new chapter in his career in Baltimore, but his impact on the most successful run in Seahawks history will never be forgotten.
Take a look back at some of the best photos from safety Earl Thomas' time with the Seattle Seahawks as the 10-year veteran agrees to terms with the Baltimore Ravens.