“A couple of cheers, not too many boos,” the six-time Pro Bowl safety said Wednesday, though Thomas admitted he cannot be sure that’ll be the response.
There will come a time, perhaps after a few more years of healing, when Thomas won’t have to wonder. He’ll return to Seattle, slap hands, raise that enormous “12″ flag as a highlight video plays and the crowd screams its lungs out. He’ll be remembered as an assassin in neon green, a founding member of the “Legion of Boom,” a Super Bowl champion and a member of what was maybe the best defense ever.
That’ll most assuredly happen, but for now, there’s this: memories of Thomas telling reporters he felt unappreciated despite making $10 million per year, of entering the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room and asking a rival coach to acquire him, of an NFL player flipping off his head coach as he was carted off the field last October after suffering a broken leg during a game against Carolina. That was a year ago, not quite long enough for Seattle or Coach Pete Carroll to forget or for Thomas to feel welcome.
And that’s okay, at least in the long run. Thomas, who did not mention Carroll’s name Wednesday, still speaks with some of his former teammates and defensive coaches. They periodically check in on him, he said, and see how he’s liking Baltimore. The Ravens are leading the AFC North and have one of pro football’s most dynamic young quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson, and a secondary with enough attitude and talent that it almost looks familiar. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is having an all-pro season, and this week Baltimore acquired Marcus Peters from the Los Angeles Rams — who were making room for Jalen Ramsey — to play across from Humphrey. Behind them will be Thomas, who’s not the ambitious disrupter he once was in Seattle, but now a 30-year-old who’s still as emotional as ever — but has been forced to trade youth and speed for experience and wisdom.
Jackson, who along with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is an early MVP candidate, was in high school when Seattle led the NFL in defense in 2013 before winning that season’s Super Bowl. Jackson, now 22, used to shake his head at the Legion of Boom’s ferocity, and if back then cornerback Richard Sherman was the defense’s voice and safety Kam Chancellor was its conscience, Thomas was its heart. Now Thomas is “strictly business,” Jackson said, though it’s clear the safety still thinks about everything — maybe a little too deeply.
Thomas, who joined Baltimore last March on a four-year deal worth a maximum of $55 million, said Wednesday that he’ll forever respect and feel affection for the Seahawks. But he added that, last season, he often felt the organization was trying to phase him out. Thomas pointed out that Ken Norton Jr., who joined the team as defensive coordinator in 2018, is a retired NFL linebacker, and so perhaps Norton valued linebackers more than defensive backs.
The veteran safety said he still sees some other teams trying to attempt to copy what Seattle once did on defense, and Thomas is almost amused when he sees other defenses run the Legion’s Cover 3 scheme without, as he put it, “four kings just balling out” like the Seahawks used to have in their secondary. Thomas wonders how the pregame ritual will go Sunday afternoon when he goes out for warm-ups. Who will approach him and say hello? Who won’t?
“I’m not gonna go out there and not talk to anybody,” Thomas said, though he did not specify if that applies even to Carroll, though if Thomas learned anything in his nine seasons with Carroll, it is that Seattle’s ever-idealistic coach is probably the most likely to approach him Sunday. “I’ll take it as it comes.”
One thing Thomas has not overthought, though, is the NFL viability or personal authenticity of Wilson. His former teammate has been a deeply polarizing presence in and around the Seattle organization these last five years, and numerous media reports paint Wilson — and Carroll’s protectiveness of him — as the man who, as much as a rash of injuries, drove a stake through the Legion of Boom’s heart. He was too inconsistent on the field, perhaps granted too much leniency off it by a team that values discipline above all. Indeed, Wilson even needed to impose a mid-April deadline for the Seahawks to complete a massive contract extension the organization had previously waffled over, and the quarterback announced what would become the richest deal in NFL history in a social media video posted from his bed.
But Thomas didn’t seem to care about any of that, saying Wednesday that Wilson was always good to Thomas and his family; that their wives and children became friends, and maybe for once it wasn’t that complicated.
“There’s been some times when he struggled, but there’s been more times when he came through for us when we needed him,” said Thomas, who is nonetheless aware that his former teammate is leading those MVP discussions in part because he has yet to throw an interception through six games this season.
Thomas has, in fact, thought about that. A lot. He has analyzed, dissected, run it through his mind because Thomas used to practice against Wilson every day and knows his tendencies. Thomas’s new coach has thought about that, too.
“I’d say he’s due,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said of Wilson. “Throw us a couple.”
On Wednesday, Thomas said the implications of Sunday’s reunion haven’t fully hit him. The emotions will come eventually, he said, because they always do. Maybe when he steps into the visitors’ locker room for the first time. Maybe when he sees the Seahawks on the opposite sideline. Maybe when he steps onto the field and waits to hear the crowd’s response.
He has thought about it, though, maybe a little too much. It’s just who he is and has always been. It’s partly why he was so beloved in Seattle, but also partly why he’s no longer there.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Thomas said of what he’ll experience Sunday. “But hopefully it’s love.”