Ravens safety Earl Thomas III responded Saturday 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 for a “mental error” that Thomas made.
Assistant head coach David Culley said after practice Saturday morning that it was an “organizational decision” to not have Thomas practice one day after the incident with Clark, who did practice. Culley said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who is scheduled to speak Sunday, would discuss the matter later.
Clark confronted Thomas on the sideline late in Friday’s practice after a coverage breakdown in 11-on-11 action. Thomas put up his fists, and the players had to be separated by teammates. After Clark continued arguing with Thomas a couple of minutes later, he had to be held back until teammates led him away from the practice fields and to the team facility.
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.
“Being sent home sucks,” Thomas wrote in a since-deleted 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.”
Thomas said he tried to “explain calmly” the play to a teammate, likely Clark, and that “built up aggression turned into me getting into [it] with a teammate.”
Harbaugh said after practice Friday that “you’re going to have these things in training camp” — though scuffles between players in the same position group are rare — and that he would look into the incident. Clark, whose scheduled video conference call Friday was canceled, has not commented on the altercation on social media.
Thomas’ comments offered some clarity on a situation that could spiral quickly. The mercurial 31-year-old, whose decorated Seattle Seahawks career ended with an on-field middle finger to coach Pete Carroll, is entering the second season of a four-year, $55 million contract. The deal guarantees $10 million in base salary for 2020 and $5 million in prorated bonuses. If the Ravens release or trade Thomas, he would count $15 million against their salary cap, and they’d incur $10 million in dead money next year.
Thomas was strong in coverage in 2019, allowing a Ravens-best passer rating of 24.2 and 113 yards overall, according to Pro-Football-Reference, and was named to his seventh Pro Bowl. But he otherwise did little to endear himself to teammates and fans.
Before a Week 3 trip to Kansas City, he said: “Luckily the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end. I plan on eliminating all the big plays.” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes then passed for 374 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-28 win.
A week later, after a Week 4 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Thomas had a heated discussion with defensive tackle Brandon Williams about why he had been a late scratch. Days later, Thomas said the two were “on the same page” after talking about the exchange.
In the Ravens’ surprising playoff loss to the Titans, Thomas was widely ridiculed for a play in which Titans running back Derrick Henry stiff-armed him twice before being run out of bounds late in the first half. Ahead of the game, Thomas had said that in Tennessee’s playoff win over the New England Patriots the week before, defenders “didn’t seem like they were too interested in tackling him.”
Speculation about Thomas’ future in Baltimore intensified in May, after he was allegedly held at gunpoint by his wife, Nina, after she found him in bed with another woman. Nina Thomas was charged with first-degree felony burglary of a residence with intent to commit aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Ravens officials didn’t know about the incident until he preempted a TMZ report on his Instagram page.
But over his first four days in training camp, Thomas had looked well positioned to grow in his second year in the Ravens’ talented secondary. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said earlier this month that Thomas was “coming in in great shape,” noting how it took him “a little while to get going” after offseason leg rehabilitation in 2019.
“I think Earl is just getting ready to add another year to his Hall of Fame career,” Martindale said. “Now he’s going 100 mph and he looks like he’s ready to go, to me.”
“He’s 100% ready to go,” Harbaugh said Tuesday. “He’s worked very hard in the offseason — you can see that. He’s in excellent shape; quick, fast, has a good burst, good acceleration, he’s strong. He just looks really good. I think this is … I don’t know the comparisons to the past and stuff like that, but I just know the now. And, right now, I see a guy that’s ready to roll.”
If Thomas is unavailable for a prolonged period, third-year safety DeShon Elliott could pair with Clark in the Ravens’ secondary. The Ravens also return special teams contributor Jordan Richards and two rookies: seventh-round pick Geno Stone and undrafted signing Nigel Warrior.
Thomas, who was trending on Twitter for much of Saturday, seemed to recognize his precarious position. At the end of his deleted Instagram post, he wrote, “Situations like this narrow my window for error but this the path I choose.” Later, in his Instagram Story, he shared another user’s post addressed to the Ravens: “Y’ALL BETTER NOT CUT @EARL.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Daniel Oyefusi and Mike Preston contributed to this report.