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Could Earl Thomas return to the NFC West?

A quick look at all four teams and their situation at safety

NFL: Baltimore Ravens-Training Camp Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens are releasing safety Earl Thomas on Sunday after a Friday altercation in which Thomas reportedly punched teammate Chuck Clark. The Ravens may have seen it as an opportunity to part ways with a player who has had several questionable “teammate” moments in the last few years as well as giving Seattle Seahawks head coach the middle finger after an injury in 2018.

Thomas also expressed an interest in playing for the Dallas Cowboys — directly after the Seahawks played the Cowboys a few years ago — and they are being considered the most likely destination for him at this point.

But players quite often — I’d guess the majority of the time — don’t sign where initially suspected. The Cowboys make a lot of sense. What about the four teams in the NFC West? Could Thomas return to the division in which he spent his first nine seasons?

Rams

Safeties: John Johnson, Taylor Rapp, Terrell Burgess, Jordan Fuller, Nick Scott, etc

For Thomas to join the Rams, the two sides would probably need to come to some sort of compromise where Thomas signs for a veteran minimum because he really just wants to beat the Seahawks twice and win the division. Which — is not impossible with Earl Thomas.

However, LA likes what they have in their two rookie safeties and certainly they love having Johnson return to free safety this season. Adding Thomas means moving the parts around again. On one hand, Thomas is a proven commodity and LA has Johnson coming off injury, Rapp currently injured, and two rookies fighting for playing time.

On the other, there are plenty of notable roadblocks between Thomas and signing with the Rams.

Seahawks

Safeties: Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, Marquise Blair, Lano Hill, etc

Players often return to their original teams after things fail or fall apart with their free agent team. The Seahawks have seen names like Marshawn Lynch, Tarvaris Jackson, Byron Maxwell and Luke Willson leave and return from that 2013-2014 era already, among others.

Adding Thomas would give Seattle two first team all-pros at safety with Diggs probably finding a place on the field somewhere regardless. However, Thomas seems to have quickly worn out his welcome at two locations in barely a year — Baltimore and Seattle.

A return to the Seahawks? No, that seems unlikely.

49ers

Safeties: Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Jonathan Cyprien, Tarvarius Moore, Marcell Harris, etc

Many are connecting Thomas and San Francisco. They want to get back to the Super Bowl, they want to get as strong at every position as possible, they pride themselves on defense, Jaquiski Tartt is a free agent in a year and injured in each of the last three, they can afford it and Earl may want to join up with former Seahawks teammate Richard Sherman to beat Seattle in the division this season.

What makes it less likely: the 49ers just extended free safety Jimmie Ward, who they like a lot. Is Ward moving to strong safety to add Thomas? What does that do to Ward’s value? Where is Thomas’s value at this point in his career? But Ward has also missed considerable time in each of the last four seasons.

It would be a risk for San Francisco to add Earl Thomas to the locker room. Clearly there were major problems in both Seattle and Baltimore. This may have brought to light why the Seahawks didn’t want to extend him originally and were okay with him leaving in free agency. And yet, he’s also helped his teams win a lot of games, including the Ravens last season.

Cardinals

Safeties: Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Isaiah Simmons, Charles Washington, Kentrell Brice, Deionte Thompson, etc

This would seem to make the most sense from a personnel standpoint. The Cardinals have no issues entering 2020 with Baker and Thompson as their safeties, eventually working Simmons in wherever he fits long-term — which is probably something like “everywhere.” But couldn’t Thomas help them more than Thompson? Couldn’t Budda Baker play strong safety and continue his development as one of the NFL’s best young safeties? Couldn’t Arizona make the finances work? (They could.) And wouldn’t it be sensible for a team that traded for DeAndre Hopkins in an attempt to win a Super Bowl while Kyler Murray is on his rookie deal for them to also add another future Hall of Famer with prime years left?

If Earl Thomas returns to the NFC West, then I think the Cardinals make the most sense. This may also be the kind of move that keeps Thomas away from the 49ers and potentially the Cards see it as their last little wrinkle to go from worst to first in one offseason.

Or, more likely, he signs with a team in a different division.