The Ravens terminated the contract of Earl Thomas Aug. 23, two days after he was involved in an altercation at training camp with fellow safety Chuck Clark that laid bare the organizational dissatisfaction with the seven-time Pro Bowl safety.
According to a tweet from the team, Thomas was released “for personal conduct that has adversely affected the Baltimore Ravens,” and by using that language, it’s clear that the Ravens will be attempting to recoup the $10 million guaranteed salary Thomas is due this season.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh did not elaborate on the release of Thomas after practice Aug. 23.
“The statement speaks for itself,” Harbaugh said.
After his release, Thomas wrote on Instagram: “Appreciate the Ravens organization for the opportunity. Had a great run .. Wish things would have ended different but you live and you learn. Thank you Eric DeCosta and everyone else who played a role in bringing me to B-More. Wish you guys the best.”
The Ravens signed Thomas to a four-year, $55 million deal last spring, the largest contract ever given to a player outside the organization. He had six Pro Bowl seasons with the Seattle Seahawks before an acrimonious split with that organization after the 2018 season. He had hoped to get a new deal with the team and instead his tenure ended with a season-ending injury.
In one season with the Ravens, Thomas, 31, totaled 49 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions, but he was slow to assimilate with his new organization and players reportedly grew dissatisfied with Thomas missing or arriving late to positional meetings.
The dustup with Clark was not Thomas’ first dispute with a Ravens teammate. After a Week 4 loss to Cleveland last year, Thomas and defensive lineman Brandon Williams had a verbal training-room confrontation because Williams had missed the game, a 40-25 loss, with a knee injury.
Things came to a head at practice Aug. 21 after Clark, one of the most popular and highly respected players in the locker room, confronted Thomas about a busted assignment. After their on-field altercation, Thomas was sent home and did not practice the next day.
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported that the Ravens Leadership Council, a group of veteran players that occasionally meets with Harbaugh and has significant value to Harbaugh and the organization, let it be known that it wanted Thomas gone.
As recently as five days ago, Harbaugh had praised Thomas for his play during training camp, saying he looked “ready to roll.”
“He’s in excellent shape,” Harbaugh said, “quick, fast, has good burst, good acceleration. He’s strong. He just looks really good.”
While the move brings some clarity to a troublesome issue, it creates a major void on the back end of the Ravens’ defense three weeks before the season begins. The Ravens secondary had been considered the deepest in the league with Thomas and cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters all coming off Pro Bowl seasons.
The logical successor to Thomas is third-year safety DeShon Elliott, who has shown good ball skills and physicality but who has been limited to just six games in two seasons because of injury. Elliott, a sixth-round pick out of Texas in 2018, missed his entire rookie season with a broken arm, and then played in six games last year before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Elliott totaled three tackles on defense last year, playing a total of 40 snaps, and three more on special teams.
Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith has been doing some work at safety, much as Brandon Carr did last year, and he could be an option to see more action there. Other safeties on the roster include veteran special teamer Jordan Richards, seventh-round draft pick Geno Stone and undrafted rookie Nigel Warrior.
While the Ravens try to recoup Thomas’ 2020 salary — a move sure to lead to a grievance — the Ravens still will face significant dead money going forward, including a $10 million cap hit next season.
This was updated after its original publication with Harbaugh’s quote after practice Aug. 23.
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