The Ravens made the right decision in terminating the contract of safety Earl Thomas III. They had too much to lose in a season in which they are heavy favorites to win a third Super Bowl title in the team’s 25-year history.
The move was slightly unusual because coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have shown a willingness to give players second chances in the past, such as tight end Nick Boyle, outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Sergio Kindle and cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Ravens didn’t release Ray Rice until after video emerged of the star running back punching his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino.
But there was more at stake with Thomas than with some of the other troubled players. Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Super Bowl champion and one of the best to ever play his position, alienated a lot of his teammates to the point in which they didn’t care if he returned or not.
Secondly, and most importantly, the Ravens can’t afford for him to be a distraction. This is a team that has great camaraderie, a chemistry built around a strong blue-collar work ethic. They have only one superstar in quarterback Lamar Jackson, and he is the most likeable player on the team.
There are others good players, such as defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell and cornerback Marcus Peters, but only Peters might cause a team disturbance.
That’s why Thomas had to go. The Ravens, along with the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, are major favorites to win the Super Bowl, and they can’t risk blowing a title run because of one disgruntled veteran. The Ravens are still one of the youngest teams in the NFL, but they have some postseason concerns they need to resolve.
Can Jackson win a playoff game? Why has the offensive coaching staff performed so poorly in the playoffs? Why can’t this team play with intensity and stop a strong running game in the “second season?”
The Ravens shouldn’t have to be concerned about Thomas causing major communication problems on defense, especially in the secondary. They shouldn’t have to be worried whether he is mentally ready to perform at a high level or missing meetings.
In the words of The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), the “Goodbye Earl” song is appropriate.
The fight with Clark wasn’t Thomas’ only offense. He got into a heated argument with Williams last year after a 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 because Williams sat out the game with an injury. Actually, I had no problems with that because Williams played at an elite level after the incident.
Regardless, teammates and coaches were irritated with Thomas at the end of last season. During the spring, a team official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Baltimore Sun that the Ravens were looking for a way to void Thomas’ contract when he was involved in an altercation with his wife, who held him at gunpoint during an incident April 13.
The snowball never stopped rolling down the cliff during the 17 months Thomas was in Baltimore.
When the Ravens signed him in March 2019, it was a good decision. They filled a need, and Thomas was motivated after breaking his leg and missing most of the 2018 season, ending in a messy divorce from the Seattle Seahawks. But his injury proved to be one that takes at least two years to fully heal. Thomas came to training camp last year slightly overweight, and he had a noticeable limp after running hard on consecutive plays.
He looked different during this year’s training camp. He was slimmer and able to run stride for stride with receivers during individual drills. But Thomas also appeared isolated and didn’t mingle much with teammates.
Last year, he was always straight-forward and blunt during interviews, yet he never seemed to relax. Very seldom did he smile, and his game face was on all the time. He was strange even until the end, from posting the play on Instagram that ignited his exchange with Clark to his final farewell giving thanks to the organization for his time in Baltimore.
It’s hard to find and plug in big-name free agents that fit the philosophy and chemistry of a team. A lot of the stars in the NFL are high-maintenance. The Ravens have had some, such as tight end Shannon Sharpe and safety Rod Woodson, who were great players and also believed in the team concept.
Then there are others, such as receivers Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant, who have been successful, but disruptive. Thomas is in that class. When a team selects that type of player, it’s a gamble.
In the case of the Ravens, they lost on Thomas, but they won in the big picture.
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He had to go.