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Timeline: How Earl Thomas III went from coveted Ravens free-agent acquisition to released by team in 17 months

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh would not expand on the release of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas from the team.

On Sunday, two days after safety Earl Thomas III got into a heated confrontation with fellow safety Chuck Clark at practice and was sent home from the team’s facility in Owings Mills, the Ravens released the seven-time Pro Bowl selection for “personal conduct that has adversely affected” the team.

Here’s a timeline of events in Thomas’ career leading up to Sunday’s move:

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Sept. 30, 2018: Playing in the final year of his four-year, $40 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks after helping the team win the Super Bowl in the 2013 season, Thomas suffers a broken leg during a 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals. After growing frustration with the team for not extending his deal in the offseason, Thomas, who did not report to training camp, points a middle finger at the Seattle sideline while being carted off the field.

“A lot of frustration that day,” Thomas said in a 2019 interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King. “I was in a battle with the team, and I chose to play, and I was betting on myself. So when it happened, it just added to my frustration. I did what I did, and I saw Pete Carroll, and I just was like, ‘You won. You won.’ Just a very disappointing day.”

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March 13, 2019: Thomas signs a four-year deal with the Ravens worth $55 million, including $32 million guaranteed. At age 30, he was considered one of the top free agents available because of his experience and productivity. Thomas said at his introductory news conference that he didn’t expect the Ravens “to even give me a chance” until they “swooped in.”

Free safety Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates a defensive stand in the third quarter against the visiting San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on Ded. 14, 2014. The Seahawks won, 17-7.
Free safety Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates a defensive stand in the third quarter against the visiting San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on Ded. 14, 2014. The Seahawks won, 17-7. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The swagger of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis spoke to him. He knew he’d find in Baltimore a defense that might “win you a championship.”

“I think Earl is a playmaker, and there’s no greater playmaker in the NFL at safety than Ed,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “Now, they have maybe different styles in some respects, but both guys can win a game for you. Just going back to Earl coming out [of college], he was one of the fastest, most explosive safeties we’ve seen. His ball skills, the combination of that and his aggressiveness and his ability to play multiple spots make him a unique player.”

June 18, 2019: Thomas adjusts to playing with a new team for the first time in his professional career after nine seasons in Seattle. In practices and in news conferences, the safety is no-nonsense, by the book, and defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale says that Thomas is getting more comfortable in the Ravens’ scheme.

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“Obviously, when you come into a different scenery on the opposite coast, it’s not always easy,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “He’s Earl. That’s how he is. We’re not here to change anybody. You are who you are, and we’re glad we have him.”

Said Thomas: “In the locker room, guys … they’re starting to understand me, and vice versa. These are my type of guys. This is the locker room that I want to be a part of.”

Sept. 29, 2019: Thomas and veteran defensive tackle Brandon Williams reportedly have a “heated” talk after a 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 in which the team allowed 530 yards, the fourth-most in franchise history.

The NFL Network reported that the exchange regarded Thomas’ frustration with Williams, who had practiced the entire week but didn’t play after surfacing on the injury report the day before the game with a knee injury.

“We’re on the same page,” Thomas said later in the week. “We talked about it. I just want him out there. He’s a Pro Bowler. We’re better when he’s out there. I was a little frustrated. I just wanted to see what was going on with him, because I know he had practiced earlier in the week. I didn’t know, it just kind of hit me out of the blind side. But hopefully, he’ll play this week.”

Oct. 20, 2019: After reflecting on his career in Seattle, Thomas and the Ravens beat the Seahawks, 30-16, at CenturyLink Field for their third straight victory heading into the bye week. Thomas, who exchanges jerseys with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, embraces his old teammates at midfield after the game — notably, though, not former coach Pete Carroll. Thomas is also impressed by his second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“Anytime you come in a hostile environment like this, you’re making powerful plays like that — all it does is just energize the sideline,” Thomas said of Jackson. “Like, that guy is the truth.”

Jan. 11, 2020: During the Ravens’ divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans, ending a record-setting 14-win season, Thomas is criticized on social media for his effort during a 27-yard run by Derrick Henry late the first half. Henry stiff-armed Thomas twice on the play, turning the safety around.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t play the kind of football we needed to play to win the game,” coach John Harbaugh said after the game. “That will stick with us for a long time.”

May 6, 2020: It’s revealed that Thomas was held at gunpoint by his wife in April after she allegedly caught him cheating on her, according to charging documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

According to a team official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the Ravens were looking into the incident to determine whether Thomas’ conduct violated his contract, which runs through 2022. The official said there were times last season when Ravens coaches thought Thomas strayed from their team concept, and that his struggles grasping the defense’s schemes in the secondary sometimes put him at odds with teammates.

Aug. 22, 2020: Thomas responds to growing speculation about the aftershocks of his sideline scuffle Friday, acknowledging that he’d been sent home and kept out of practice after confronting fellow starter Chuck Clark following a “mental error” Thomas made.

About 90 minutes after the conclusion of Saturday’s practice, Thomas shared practice footage on his Instagram account of the play that he said sparked the confrontation with Clark, calling it a “mental error on my part.” After the long completion, Clark can be seen throwing his helmet to the ground.

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“Being sent home sucks,” Thomas wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post. “I can’t take the reps I need to keep momentum going [...] But I can reflect on things and keep working my plan to help the team win.”

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Aug. 23, 2020: The Ravens announce that they have released Thomas for “personal conduct that has adversely affected” the team.

By terminating Thomas’ contract, the Ravens will seek to recover the $10 million in guaranteed base salary owed to him this year. He signed a four-year, $55 million in contract in 2019, then the largest deal for a Ravens defender in franchise history. Thomas will likely file a grievance against the Ravens for voiding his guaranteed money.

“Appreciate the Ravens organizations for the opportunity. Had a great run,” Thomas wrote on Instagram after the announcement. “Wish things would have ended differently, but you live and you learn. Thank you Eric DeCosta and everyone else who has played a role in bringing me to B-More. Wish you guys the best.”

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