Josh Norman says Earl Thomas’ frustration with Seahawks understandable
When Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was carted off the field last week with a leg injury, he left those watching with an image that will be hard to forget anytime soon. As the cart rolled away, Thomas, his leg wrapped in an air cast, looked toward his own sideline and raised his middle finger.
Here was a player in the final year of his contract and had done everything from holding out in the offseason to skipping practices in the regular season to try and force the Seahawks to give him a new deal, or trade him to another team willing to extend him.
Instead, he suffered a season-ending injury just a month into the season one that could potentially cost him millions in free agency.
Thomas’ frustration was understandable, Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said.
“You’re going to mean to tell me that I wouldn’t do that?” Norman said of Thomas’ decision to flip off the sideline. “Pfft. Get out of here, man.”
The injury re-emphasized another point, too: NFL players often have limited leverage when trying to negotiate a new contract.
They can skip practices and workouts, but risk alienating fans and subject themselves to fines. They can report and be a good soldier, though always face the risk of injury. Through it all, teams are under no obligation to fulfill a player’s wishes.
It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.
But after Thomas’ injury, will anything change?
“I think more people will be inclined to holdout because of what happened to Earl,” said Redskins receiver Paul Richardson, who played with Thomas in Seattle for four seasons. “Earl was probably the best safety in football. ... He’s too important to that team, especially with the past success that they had, to not pay him.
“So when you got guys holding out, not necessarily to get more money, but to get what they deserve, I think you should pay them.”
Holding out, though, can be difficult. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell remains the only player willingly missing games and even he plans to return around Week 7, ESPN reported.
A season-long holdout is also nearly impossible, considering the player wouldn’t get credit for a season and the team would still hold the player’s rights. For Bell, he told ESPN that possibility was never an option, adding he was holding out to preserve his body.
Players themselves can be conflicted, as Norman was in 2016. That year, the cornerback was given the franchise tag then a one-year, $14 million deal by the Carolina Panthers but threatened to holdout for a better deal.
The Panthers instead opted to withdraw the offer before Norman signed, paving the way for him to join the Redskins on a five-year, $75 million deal.
“I wanted to get back with my teammates and I wanted them to know they were going into a season where they’d really need me, Norman said. “And I really needed them and I wanted to go back and try for that Super Bowl again.
“I really did, but at the same time, I’m not going to accept what they were giving me on the table because it was peanuts to what I put into it. ... What’s the difference between $10 million and $15 million? That’s a big jump, I’m sorry.”
The strong-arm tactics have worked on occasion, including as recently as this year. In August, the Los Angeles Rams gave defensive tackle Aaron Donald a six-year, $135 million contract, then making him the highest-paid defender in football while ending his holdout.
And weeks later, the Chicago Bears traded for the disgruntled Khalil Mack giving the former Oakland Raiders star a six-year, $141 million extension.
But sympathy can be hard to come by from fans, who argue players should live up to the contract they signed. Thomas, too, is making $8.5 million, while Bell is earning $15 million which fans point to as the reason players should be satisfied.
Teammates, too, can disagree with a player’s actions. To start the season, Steelers offensive linemen Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey ripped Bell calling the back selfish and adding he doesn’t give “a damn” about the team or his teammates.
The Steelers, though, have struggled without Bell. They are 1-2-1 and rank 28th in rushing, averaging just 72.2 yards per game.
“I bet they’re not [critical] now,” Norman said. “They probably want him back.”