The reasons for Earl Thomas’s acrimonious contract dispute with the Seattle Seahawks came to the forefront Sunday when the All-Pro safety made an obscene gesture toward his own sideline after suffering a leg fracture that likely ended his season – and possibly his career.
Thomas, 29, refused to play during the 2018 preseason due to dissatisfaction with the financial terms of his contract with the Seahawks, which is set to expire after this season. Facing the possibility of losing $500,000 per week in game checks, Thomas returned for the regular season, despite concerns that a serious injury would derail his long-term earning potential.
A six-time Pro Bowl selection and vaunted member of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense, Thomas will now enter free agency while recovering from a fracture to the same leg he previously broke in 2016. As he was carted off the field on Sunday, he appeared to flash his middle finger in the direction of the Seahawks’ bench.
"I think that's the crazy part of our business. If [Thomas] doesn't come [to play], then he's not a team player," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said after the game, according to ESPN. "If he does come and he gets hurt, then it's, 'He shouldn't have come.' So it's a position that we get put in often and it's an unfortunate situation."
Serious injuries are even more of a concern for NFL players than they are for players in other pro sports. Most NFL contracts are short-term and lacking in guaranteed money. Given football’s violent nature, players risk permanently losing their source of income from career-ending injuries.
Thomas did not speak to reporters after the game, but Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said he did not see his injured star’s gesture.
"I don't know anything about that," Carroll told reporters. "It's a big stadium. I don't know where it was aimed at. Earl was extraordinarily poised on the field. For what just occurred to be so clear and so resolved to -- he knew what happened. But he was so poised and giving back to the players and all of us. So I don't know what happened after that."
Thomas has sought a contract extension from the Seahawks as insurance against the kind of injury he experienced on Sunday. Seattle was reportedly in the process of seeking to trade Thomas before the injury.
"I need to make sure my body is 100 [percent]," Thomas said last week to explain his absence from practice, according to ESPN. "I'm invested in myself. If they was invested in me, I would be out there practicing. But if I feel like anything -- I don't give a damn if it's small, I've got a headache -- I'm not practicing. But I don't want that to be taken the wrong way. I know I'm going to get fined. But that's just where I'm at with that."
Thomas is hardly the first NFL star to become embroiled in a war of words with his own team over a contract. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has refused to play at all this season amid a years-long dispute with the franchise over what constitutes fair compensation.
Thomas has earned roughly $55 million during his nine seasons in the NFL, according to Spotrac.