Early Sunday morning on August 23rd, the Ravens decided to part ways with Earl Thomas after just one season on the team. Many people believe that his fight with Ravens opposite starting safety Chuck Clark prompted this big release, but it was just the last straw in what was a toxic situation between the Ravens organization and Thomas.
Thomas signed with the Ravens on a 4 year 55 million dollar contract last offseason and was one of the leagues highest priority free agents. Thomas said that he was ready to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs before receiving a last minute offer by the Baltimore Ravens, in which he accepted. The Ravens have been known as for a while, one of the best cultures and defensive development organizations in the league, and were more than happy to welcome in Earl Thomas, who has unarguably been the best safety in the NFL since Ed Reed. With an emerging star corner in Marlon Humphrey, a fellow first team all pro on the opposite side with Marcus Peters, and a young smart heady player in Chuck Clark, the Ravens looked to have potentially the best secondary in the NFL going into the 2020 NFL season.
Thomas played a big role in Seattle during the times of the legion of boom, the center field free safety looking to eliminate all big plays deep down the field. He was excellent, earning 3 all pro selections and PFFs highest coverage grade as a safety during his time in Seattle. The original contract looked like a bargain for what Earl would bring to the table for the Ravens, giving them more flexibility then they had previously with Eric Weddle, even coming off a major leg injury that caused him to miss most of the 2018 season. Many analysts praised Ravens GM Eric Decosta for the move, which was one of his first moves ever after taking over Ozzie Newsome.
The 2019 season certainly didn’t look like the contract hurt the Ravens. As we all know the Ravens went 14-2, and bolstered one of the leagues best defenses in the league, helped greatly by Earl, who earned his 7th pro bowl selection. Earl stepped into a completely different system from what he played in with the Seattle cover 3, moving to more of a box safety who helped in run support and manned up on tight ends and running backs. He in fact, notched his first sack in his entire career this season, getting to Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Also, though I don’t like looking at coverage box score stats, Earl put up incredible numbers, allowing a 4.4 passer rating, 6 receptions, 81 yards and 0 touchdowns when targeted as the nearest defender according to next gen stats. While those numbers look very impressive, Earls play wasn’t quite at the top tier level it once was back in Seattle. His PFF grade was 76.7 this past season, which isn’t bad, as it only slightly trails Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has emerged as one of the leagues best safeties according to many fans. However, it is a step down from his previous years which usually graded out in the 90’s, which is understandable coming off of a major leg injury and coming into a completely different system.
There seemed to be no issue with Thomas going into 2020, until a hiccup in early May. TMZ leaked a story of Earl Thomas allegedly cheating on his wife with another woman with his brother, where he was later confronted and held at gun point by his wife. Earl did not intend for this story to be leaked, but it did, and that’s when rumors of him being cut began. After the story was released, there were rumors swirling around that the Ravens were unhappy with Thomas’ inability to learn and thrive in the Raven’s system and that the coaching staff was unhappy with him. However, this all seemed to blow over within the next couple of months and all parties seemed to move on from the story and the rumors were never confirmed.
Training camp then begun in August, in a weird covid-affected season. Defensive coordinator spoke to reporters about Earl Thomas, saying that he will be playing in 2020 closer to full speed after more recovery time from his leg injury. However this camp was a nightmare for Thomas and pretty much anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Thomas reportedly was late to meetings, and one time missed a meeting entirely without a valid excuse, which was the need to get his car washed. John Harbaugh and the Ravens coaching staff, who wants to establish a strong culture, was unhappy with Earl and frustrated with his behavior throughout camp. The tipping point was in a 11 on 11 practice, when Thomas blew a coverage, allowing a touchdown, which followed with Chuck Clark slamming his helmet on the ground and confronting Thomas, which then escalated into a fight with Thomas punching Clark. After this, the Ravens leadership council decided that they would rather not have Thomas on the team, which led to the Ravens sending home Thomas from camp the previous day. After a day had passed, the Ravens decided that they were going to move on from Thomas, and will now begin a battle for the money that is owed to Thomas and weather or not they are able to void the contract due to language involving personal conduct that has adversely affected the team.
The Ravens now have a hole at the free safety position. 6th round 2018 draft pick Deshon Elliott is slated to start at free safety, and likely take rotations with Chuck Clark and 7th round rookie Geno Stone. Elliott missed 2018 and most of 2019 with significant injuries, but the coaches and many fans have hope that he will have a breakout season in 2020. There was unfortunate news that Iman Marshall will miss the 2020 season with season ending surgery, who could’ve moved to safety and is the most athletic option. All of the Ravens current options, all have athletic limitations and could be exposed in the back end due to a lack of range. The Ravens could also experiment with corners Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith in the back end who add more athleticism, but the Ravens system doesn’t entirely demand the position to have a ton of range. Whichever way the Ravens go, Wink Martindale, John Harbaugh and the rest of the staff will make sure to put them in the best position to succeed, and the Ravens still look to boast one of the leagues best defenses, despite the loss of Thomas.