Seahawks eyeing a future without Earl Thomas

Not content to merely shop Earl Thomas, Seattle is also targeting potential replacements for him in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Will Seattle trade Earl Thomas?

Thomas’ trade speculation was running rampant during the NFL Combine. He’d hinted at a holdout a month earlier at the Pro Bowl, which came after his much-publicized request of Cowboys’ HC Jason Garrett to “come get me.” Perhaps he was angling for a trade, or maybe just hoping for a lucrative contract extension. In either case, the Seahawks appear ready to oblige him.

The rumors died down two weeks ago when Ian Rapoport reported Seattle’s intent to keep Thomas in 2018 and beyond. However, Jason La Canfora stoked the fire last Thursday with a report of ongoing discussions with several teams:

Say what you will about trading a future Hall-of-Famer, 1st and 3rd round draft picks would be a nice return. Especially for an almost-29-year-old Safety with some durability concerns and only one year left on his contract.

As I suggested yesterday, Pete Carroll and John Schneider are implementing a top-down culture change in Seattle. And getting rid of outspoken and controversial personalities to make the team “a little quieter” is a priority:

While Thomas’ personality isn’t in the same realm as Bennett or Richard Sherman, his recent actions are certainly controversial. It’s no surprise the Seahawks are dangling him to see if anyone bites at their steep asking price. 

With the culture reset already taking place, trading Thomas seems feasible, if not expected. Yet the Seahawks have some time to wait for their desired return. The draft is still a month away, and interested suitors could increase their urgency after the free agency well dries up. In the meantime, Seattle is showing strong interest in potential replacements from the draft:

Seahawks targeting trio of top Free Safety prospects

Seattle reportedly met with FS Natrell Jamerson of Wisconsin last week, and has a visit lined up with Stanford FS Justin Reid:

And a month ago, Tony Pauline reported that the Seahawks were “looking hard” at Wake Forest FS Jessie Bates III.

I watched extensive tape on Reid and Bates prior to releasing HawkTalk’s preview of the 2018 Safety class two months ago. At the time, I had them ranked as high or higher than any other outlet or analyst I’d seen. Reid was my #3 Safety after Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick, while Bates was borderline top-5. Their draft stocks have surged since then, with both even receiving some late-1st / early 2nd-round hype.

That’s a little rich for my blood, yet both fit comfortably in day-two of the draft. Reid in the second round and Bates in the third. Both could easily go a round earlier in this lean class of pure Free Safeties.

Reid is a not-so-poor-man’s Fitzpatrick, excelling in the slot and the back-end. His versatility stands out most, which you can get an idea of in the video leading this article. He’s also a smart player and elite athlete, and had terrific production at Stanford. He was a 2nd team All-American last season as a true Junior.

Bates came out as a red-shirt sophomore on the other hand. While his production (particularly as a freshman) stands out, he carries a little more risk. He is rangy, fluid and instinctual, but also raw and a wildly inconsistent tackler. I love his aggressiveness and upside however, and it’s easy to imagine Carroll feeling the same way.

Jamerson wasn’t on my radar until the NFL Combine, where he put on a show. I’ve since studied his film, and there’s a lot to like about his game as well. As a former CB and WR, he lacks the Safety experience of Reid & Bates despite 4 years at Wisconsin. That manifests in some tentativeness vs. the run on tape, though he played smart, disciplined football. His coverage skills are advanced, and he tested like a high-end athlete as well. My initial grade on Jamerson is R3-4, which is quite a bit higher than most analysts have him.

Earl Thomas draft hedges

The common denominator between this trio of FS prospects is their coverage skills. Each possesses CB speed, athleticism, footwork and fluidity. That isn’t to say they project at Corner in Seattle, as they lack either the requisite height or length. However, they can cover the slot effectively and would all be good fits as a single-high FS in Carroll’s defense.

It’s worth noting that Wisconsin CB Nick Nelson joined Jamerson for their Pro Day dinner with the Seahawks. That might be a smokescreen, since Nelson is too small for a Seattle CB. Or perhaps it was simply a chance to get more info on Jamerson. However, I wonder if Carroll would consider him at FS… Nelson is a superb CB prospect who led the nation is passes defended last year.

What does this say about the future of Earl Thomas?

The Seahawks are clearly preparing for the draft as if Thomas won’t be on the roster next month. 

Think about it this way – Seattle would have absolutely no need at FS if he was extended. In that case, Thomas, Bradley McDougald and Tedric Thompson would all be locked up long term. McDougald can play either Safety spot effectively, while Thompson is a 2017 4th-rounder (with more ability than most fans are aware of).

Yet Seattle is targeting arguably the top 3 pure-FS prospects in the draft (if you consider Minkah something different). All signs point to a potential (probable?) Thomas-trade before the draft. 

In that scenario, McDougald would be the favourite to start at whichever Safety spot is less competitive in camp. Delano Hill (who’s incredibly underrated) and newly-acquired Maurice Alexander would compete at SS. And it appears that Reid, Bates and Jamerson would be top candidates for a Seahawks draft pick. One of them could compete with Thompson at FS.

Watch out for South Alabama’s Jeremy Reaves as well, who is the most stylistically-similar player to Earl Thomas in this draft (albeit a much poorer-man’s version of course). I’ve got a 4th round grade on Reaves, who was an egregious Combine snub.

It was a bit gut-wrenching to see the Seahawks move on from Sherman and Bennett. And Thomas’s departure would sting even more for me as a fan. But the team always comes first, and I can’t help but be excited for PCJS to go to work in this draft. If (when?) they trade Thomas, they’ll have a lot more ammunition to do so.