NFL safety Earl Thomas
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Earl Thomas found himself in Houston earlier this week, preparing for his first workout with an NFL team since his abrupt release from the Baltimore Ravens in August.

But that workout never materialized, with NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reporting the future Hall of Famer was sent home with nothing more than an off-site physical to mark the experience. 

According to Rapoport, the Texans brought Thomas in to gauge his mindset and “see him up close.” Ultimately, Houston let him leave without a deal. It was, at least in part, because they didn’t think the veteran fit their team and the locker room.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien left open the possibility of signing Thomas down the road, but the decision not to even have him try out is a surprise. When news first broke of Thomas meeting with the Texans, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said it was “more likely than not” he’d sign with the team before Sunday’s game. 

A pairing made sense, in theory. Houston’s defense has yet to force a turnover through three games and just placed backup safety A.J. Moore on injured reserve. 

Thomas can still be an impactful player. Last year, he made his seventh Pro Bowl in 10 seasons. He showed off a new wrinkle to his game in the Ravens’ scheme, with defensive coordinator Don Martindale sending him on blitzes 54 times, fifth-highest among defensive backs. He still graded out as an effective coverage safety, too, and was PFF’s No. 7-ranked safety heading into this season.

The idea that Thomas couldn’t help an 0-3 squad with a coach on the hot seat doesn’t pass the smell test.

Revisiting the Earl Thomas-Ravens breakup

Taking into account previous reports and that the former “Legion of Boom” member hasn’t shown a significant skill drop-off, it’s fair to assume that his tenure and early exit with the Ravens is the main reason we’ve yet to see him this season.

Thomas was released unceremoniously from the team after he reportedly punched teammate Chuck Clark in training camp. Here’s a quick summary from an original ESPN report to refresh your memory:

“The breaking point came Friday in the team’s fourth training camp practice of the year. After Thomas blew a coverage, Clark angrily ripped off his helmet and threw it to the ground. Thomas then punched Clark, a source said. Both players were separated by teammates and coaches. It’s unusual for two players in the same position group to fight.”

Thomas also angered Ravens’ management with excessive tardiness or outright absence from meetings, according to the NFL Network’s Mike Silver. 

“They warned him after he got fined repeatedly,” Silver reported. “Look, at some point this is going to be conduct detrimental. That’s going to affect your contract. Things picked up right where they left off at this training camp, and not in a good way.”

Whether it was missing team meetings or some other, larger issue at play, his fight with Clark was apparently the last straw for the Ravens. Baltimore cut Thomas just one season into his four-year, $55-million deal, citing “personal conduct that has adversely affected” the team.

It’s just such a bizarre turn for one of the NFL’s premier players. Thomas won a Super Bowl in Seattle, and bird-flipping aside, he was still seen as a leader for a team with title aspirations. The Ravens’ communication team even made an entire video about the safety’s leadership skills a month after his signing. Check out this quote from it:

When the Ravens signed safety Earl Thomas last month, everyone talked about how he was such a great leader. Everyone knows that he’s a playmaker on the field, but behind the scenes, that leadership is not something to overlook.

Where will Earl Thomas sign?

The Texans, 49ers and Cowboys were all teams to watch in the race to sign Thomas upon his release, per NFL Network. However, Mike McCarthy and Kyle Shanahan both made it clear their teams would stand pat after Thomas hit the open market.

With the Texans passing on Thomas, the focus once again shifts toward Jerry Jones. Despite his coach seemingly backing off the star safety, we know who runs things in Dallas. Thomas, who grew up in Texas, has been rather vocal about his desire to play for the Cowboys. And Jerry, ever the entertainer, won’t shut down the idea. This week, when asked on a radio station about signing Thomas, the Cowboys owner made headlines. 

“I’m aware Thomas is out there,” Jones said. “I also am interested at this juncture in improving this team now. Right now.”

Thomas would be an immediate boon to a leaky secondary and a defense that’s giving up the fourth-most passing yards per game in the NFL. 

The Cardinals have been hit hard by injuries to the backend of their defense and could use a player of Thomas’ caliber, too. Both of the team’s starting safeties have already been ruled out for Week 4. 

The Patriots quietly have one of the league’s worst pass defenses — Football Outsiders ranks them 27th — and have a need at safety with Patrick Chung opting out of this season over COVID-19 concerns. You know there’s a world in which New England signs him tomorrow and makes the rest of the NFL look silly by November.

Ironically, the Seahawks need him more than any other team. Seattle’s defense has been able to hide behind Russell Wilson’s incredible cookery to this point, but it’s been downright ugly on that side of the ball. To put it in perspective, Seattle has allowed an astonishing 1,292 passing yards in three games, more than the Jets and Broncos have given up…in four.