The Ravens released safety Earl Thomas Aug. 23, two days after an altercation in training camp with fellow safety Chuck Clark that exposed the team’s displeasure with the former Seattle Seahawk. Thomas was released for “conduct that has adversely affected the Baltimore Ravens,” meaning the club will attempt to recoup the $10 million in guaranteed money Thomas was poised to make in 2020.
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks, a defensive back in the NFL from 1994-1998 and a scout from 1999-2007, joined Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 24 to discuss the release of Thomas and what’s next for the Ravens.
PressBox: Can you take me through the idea of a group of veteran players reaching a point at which they say, “You know what, there’s somebody on our team that we just can’t ride with anymore.” Can you imagine how far something would have to go for that to be a circumstance that might play out?
Bucky Brooks: I don’t think it would have to go too far depending on how the culture is established. If you are a team where you’ve got a culture where everyone is held accountable, everybody is able to hold everyone to a high standard, they’re able to have real conversations about what you’re doing and if you’re living up to the standard, I don’t think it has to go a long way. I think when you read the tea leaves and you read some of the reports that are coming out, the fight stuff had little to do with Earl being released.
I think when you look at the things in terms of blowing off meetings, showing up late, not being accountable or held to the same standard that some of the other players feel like they’re held to, at that point you have a group of veteran guys saying that this guy isn’t with us and we would be better off without him than with him. When you are a coach and you are the leader of a team and you’re talking about all these values every day, when the team comes to you and says, “Coach, he’s not one of our guys,” you have to listen to them and you have to make that move no matter how expensive it is.
PB: What does that do now for this roster? We’re talking about a guy who’s a future Hall of Fame football player, and while maybe he wasn’t the same rock star a year ago, he was still a very good football player. What does it do for the rest of the locker room that they now know, “Hey, we’re not going to give this guy special treatment because he’s a future Hall of Famer” — how much does that buoy everybody else that the Ravens would do this?
BB: I had a coach tell me a long time ago, “There’s no difference between someone who can’t do and someone who won’t do.” And so when you look at the Baltimore Ravens and you look at their team, him not doing what was expected of him was no different than someone who doesn’t have the ability to do it. So you’re better off getting someone who’s a try-hard player, who will fall in line with the values and the culture of the team and give everything that he has to give even if he’s not as talented but at least he’s on board with the other 10 guys that are on the field.
In terms of the roster, I think here’s what’s been lost in translation since Earl has been released. Think about the guys that manned that position before him and what kind of guys they were. Eric Weddle, A-1 dude, all about the team. Teammates loved him. Think about Tony Jefferson and how beloved he was when they let him go. Think about Ed Reed and what those guys had. When you have someone who was an All-Pro player but he’s not in the same fabric as those guys, they’re looking around like, “Man, we thought we were getting something else,” and he didn’t give them that.
I’ll go on to say, think about the playoff game. People talk about the Derrick Henry thing and all that. When Lamar Jackson and those guys say that they weren’t ready to play, that they took them lightly, part of the reason you bring in an Earl Thomas and veterans is so that they can stand in front of the room and say, “Guys, here’s where we are in the postseason. Here’s what you need to expect. Here’s how we need to up the ante when it comes to our preparation.” When those things don’t happen and there’s an overall sense of lack of maturity, yeah, they didn’t get what they thought they were getting when they invested in him.
PB: We’ve been largely very high on what Eric DeCosta has done in his role as general manager, but this remains the biggest free-agent contract they’ve ever handed out as a franchise. As you mentioned, maybe they were expecting something different. Is there a lot of criticism that deserves to be levied against DeCosta for maybe being willing to shell out tens of millions of dollars without truly knowing exactly what type of player or person Earl Thomas was?
BB: Let’s go back a year ago, two years ago when Earl Thomas was a free agent. We’re still thinking that, “Look, he’s the best free safety in football.” Yeah, we know that he is a little different personality, but think about all the strong personalities that have played in Baltimore before. So if anything, they felt that they had a locker room where he would fit in and be able to be himself and still be a high contributor to the team. What they didn’t know is that he wasn’t going to fall in line with some of the fabric of the organization.
They were one of the first teams that coined, “Play like a Raven.” Everyone now is play like whatever. But they had a very clear standard for who they are and what kind of players they want. And they thought that Earl had that, and sometimes in free agency you never know until you get them into the locker room. There’s two ways you can do it. You can hold onto him and try to rectify the mistake or you can acknowledge the mistake and move on for the betterment of the team, and that’s what I think they’re tried to do.
PB: How confident are you in the Ravens’ ability to overcome losing from a football perspective what Earl Thomas brought them a season ago?
We have to separate Earl Thomas the legend from the Earl Thomas that showed up in Baltimore. The Earl Thomas that played in Baltimore wasn’t the same guy that played in Seattle. Earl Thomas is basically a guy who is the ornament on top of the Christmas tree on the defense. He’s the high safety. He plays there. Well in Baltimore, you’re not really a single-high safety defense. They’re very multiple in how they attack. They had him in the box, they moved him around or whatever.
Honestly, they’re a team that really values multiplicity, high IQ in terms of being able to get things on the run. Because the system in Baltimore was so drastically different than Seattle, it took Earl a while to pick it up and he wanted to freelance. I think it won’t be an issue for the next guy because it’s easy to plan for a guy who may have lesser talent but he is going to do exactly what you draw up as opposed to someone who is kind of all over the place and unpredictable and you don’t where he’s going to be in the defense that you call.
PB: Would you be inclined to truly allow this to be a young player’s role or would you be more interested in seeing a little bit more of Jimmy Smith playing safety or bringing back a Tony Jefferson, something along those lines? Would you give the first shot to a player with so little experience in DeShon Elliott?
BB: I would give him first crack at it because players will tell you exactly what you need to know about other players. In the rumor mill, you’ve heard players say, “He’s ready for the role.” Players don’t say that just to be saying that. They feel confident enough that if he goes out there, he is going to be fine. I think it’s also telling when they talk about Chuck Clark that they jumped on his side in terms of, “He’s good. He does exactly what he’s supposed to do.”
A lot of everything that is in that DB room is trust and communication. The reason Ed Reed was able to freelance and do what he was able to do is because they had great trust and communication in the back end. Because when he’s freelancing, that means he’s told somebody, “Hey man, I’m about to go so back me up.” That’s the kind of communication [you need]. Those relationships extend beyond how you play. It really extends to the point of, “How do I feel about this guy? Do I really trust him that I’m going to back him up and make it right if he’s out of position?”
I think with the chemistry they have with the young guys, they’ll be fine, but I think the reason you contact Tony Jefferson is because he’s been in there. He is an emergency option just in case. You don’t know if the young guy’s going to be ready for it. Let’s just make sure we have him on deck so we can bring him in. Even if he’s not the same player, from a communication standpoint he still can get us right in the back end. It’s twofold. You have the young guy, but then you’re checking in with Tony to see where he is in case you need to bring him on board.
For more from Brooks, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox