We have a problem in world of internet sports commentary.
OK, that’s it, end of column. See you guys next Monday. Take some time and go listen to the new Cold War Kids record.
OK, so specifically we have a problem in the world of internet sports commentary when it comes to wins and losses. We’ve mostly accepted that they’re irrelevant stats in terms of pitching but for some reason we’ve decided instead to apply such statistics to … literally everything else that exists.
I’ve written about the phenomenon before. Insanely, we’ve decided that somehow everything that happens in sports that warrants conversation on any social media platform must be viewed as a “win” or a “loss.” Illogically, we try to imagine which team “won” a trade before any player involved has even had an opportunity to meet their new teammates. Yet that’s not even close to the dumbest application of this “analysis.”
When a team hires a new coach we’ll breathlessly declare that somehow the coach “won” their introductory press conference. Simone Biles can’t imagine the gymnastics necessary to make this concept work in our minds. But it gets worse. We’re so desirous of seeing our favorite team “win” that we’ll attempt to judge apologies in these terms! When someone does something stupid off the field, we’ll absurdly listen to or read their statement and we’ll chirp something like “this is a great apology!”
Not everything is a win or loss. In fact, the only true “wins” or “losses” that occur in sports are the ones that happen on the field. Everything else is overwhelmingly in the “no decision” category.
Which brings us to Earl Thomas.
In the span of just 48 hours, Thomas went from reigning Pro Bowl starter for a popular preseason Super Bowl pick to unemployed. (To be fair, the unemployment won’t last long.) In the aftermath of such a shocking turn, it is understandable that pundits and fans alike would want to consider a question along the lines of, “Did the Ravens do the right thing?”
There’s an obvious answer. It’s just not one that we’re willing to accept. The obvious answer is that we have absolutely no idea and can’t possibly know for at least a little while. It’s not a “win” or a “loss.” It’s a firm “no decision” for now.
I know why you might think it’s a “win.” Perhaps you’ve used the term “addition by subtraction” to describe the team’s decision to move on. If the team’s “leadership council” had truly soured on Thomas as has been reported, there is certainly an argument that it truly became a point of no return for the team. If you have such a council, it has to matter when it has an opinion about something like this. If the team ignored its desires in favor of a contract, they might as well go ahead and disband the leadership group.
Thomas did little to ingratiate himself in Baltimore during his short time here. Admittedly, I found it difficult to embrace him after the incident last September where he bizarrely went after one of the most respected players in the locker room (Brandon Williams) for not playing due to injury — particularly after the optic of Thomas dogging it on Nick Chubb’s long touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Sure, Thomas wasn’t making the play. But the combination of him completely giving up and then getting into an altercation with a veteran whose status on the team means so much was too much for me to ignore. Thomas has a significant amount of cache within football as a whole, but he absolutely hadn’t earned that status specifically among veterans in Baltimore.
Of course we also know that Thomas made the questionable decision to not inform the organization of the offseason incident involving his wife holding a gun to his head. While perhaps he had no legal obligation to do so, it made no sense to not inform them and allow them to be caught off guard by a TMZ report. It’s not something a true “partner” would do.
Perhaps Thomas’ personal issues have played a role in why teammates have soured on him. It would be understandable, to say the least. But even all of these issues surrounding the likely future Hall of Famer do not make this decision a “win.”
While perhaps not an overwhelming playmaker, Thomas was a good football player here. He graded quite well in coverage (according to Pro Football Focus) and made more of an impact as a rusher than we could have possibly imagined. The Ravens can suggest they’re excited for DeShon Elliott (or Jimmy Smith can take more snaps at safety, or they can re-sign Tony Jefferson), but these players have not proven themselves to be as good as Earl Thomas.
The Ravens are a worse football team on paper than they were last week. And while they’re playing the “conduct detrimental” card in an attempt to recoup his money, that’s not going to help them right now. And that term is so broad it’s hard to fathom them truly winning such a grievance. I’m not certain I’m even rooting for them to, as NFL contracts are already far too easily dismissed. While I have no doubt there are issues related to Thomas that we don’t know publicly, they would have to be FAR more significant than what we do know for me to believe the “conduct detrimental” argument will work here.
But those issues don’t make this decision a “loss” because, well, see everything before this in the column. This was a difficult decision and perhaps one that needed to be made. The Ravens obviously can’t share everything because they’re going to be in a legal battle over money, but they should do right by their fans by answering more than they’ve answered so far. That’s more than a little disappointing.
Ultimately, the Thomas decision is nothing more than … something that happened. If they go on to win a Super Bowl, it will have been the right decision. If they don’t, we’ll be forced to wonder. That’s the only way to judge anything they do at the moment.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox