The Seahawks have made Earl Thomas easily the highest paid safety in the NFL, giving him 10 million dollars annually over the course of this extension and guaranteeing that Thomas will make 27.725 million dollars. While the 40 million dollar total value of this contract isn’t a record, both the guaranteed money and the annual salary are records (for non-rookie contracts), surpassing the deal that Jairus Byrd got earlier this off-season from the Saints, which gave him 54 million over 6 years with 26.3 million guaranteed.
Some people consider Earl Thomas the top safety in the NFL. I disagree, in favor of Jairus Byrd. Byrd has graded out higher than Thomas on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons that Thomas has been in the league. Byrd was 3rd among safeties in 2011, 2nd in 2012, and 8th in 2013, only coming in 8th because he missed time with injury. Thomas, meanwhile, has never graded out higher than 8th, doing so in 2011, and finishing 9th in 2013.
There’s something to be said for the fact that Thomas is 3 years younger (only going into his age 25 season) and this deal only taking him until his age 29 season, while the Saints could theoretically have Byrd under contract until his age 33 season. Thomas has also never missed a game, while Byrd has missed 7 games in 5 seasons, including recently 5 games missed in 2013 with foot problems. However, Byrd is the best safety in the NFL, not Thomas.
The big difference: In 5 seasons, Byrd has missed 22 tackles, while Thomas has missed 55 tackles in 4 seasons, including 31 over the past 2 seasons alone. That might sound like splitting hairs, but when we’re talking about best safety in the NFL, that type of thing matters. Both provide excellent depth coverage, but Byrd is also a sound tackler, which is not something you can say about Thomas. Byrd is the best safety in the NFL, while Thomas is in the mix with guys like TJ Ward, Eric Weddle, Eric Berry, Devin McCourty, and Troy Polamalu, who are in that next group of safeties.
This isn’t a bad deal, especially since it doesn’t even take Thomas into his 30s, meaning there’s a good chance he plays out this entire contract (5 years total, including the 4 years of extension). Thomas is a very valuable part of a Super Bowl winning defense. However, he doesn’t deserve to be the highest paid safety in the NFL. The Seahawks have so much young talent that they’re going to get so expensive to keep together over the next few seasons.
Richard Sherman is next with a deal that is going to be worth 12+ million dollars yearly and then Russell Wilson with a deal that’ll probably pay him 20+ million dollars yearly. Those two will both deserve their contracts more than Thomas deserves this one. Bobby Wagner is another guy that could command big money soon, while Russell Okung, Byron Maxwell, and Cliff Avril are going into contract years. They already have big contracts given to Max Unger, Brandon Mebane, Kam Chancellor, Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett and Marshawn Lynch on their books. Overpaying guys, no matter how talented they are, is being financially irresponsible, which is not something the Seahawks can afford to be.