As the Ravens premier free agent signing, expectations are high for Earl Thomas entering his first season in Baltimore. Thomas is replacing Eric Weddle, a well-respected veteran himself who left a lasting impact during his three-year string with the Ravens.
By all accounts, Thomas is an on-field upgrade over Weddle, which is less of a slight towards the latter and more of a testament to the former. Maybe the best free safety in the league over the past five or six years, Thomas should be a perfect fit in Don Martindale’s defensive scheme as the single-high defensive back.
Here are five goals for Thomas to achieve next season. Be sure to leave your thoughts down below and join the conversation!
1) Maintain good health
Over the past three seasons, Thomas has missed a total of 19 games, most of which can be attributed to a broken leg he suffered last season in Week 4. These types of occurances are obviously unavoidable but his recent injury history and age (30) has some questioning how much he has left in the tank. It’s likely the biggest reason why the Seahawks were reluctant to give him a new contract. Thus, the loftiest achievement Thomas should strive for is playing all 16 games or somewhere close to a full season. Everyone knows what he’s capable of doing on the field, it’s just a matter of actually playing and proving himself as still being one of the best safeties in the league today.
2) Take on a leadership role
Much has been made over the Ravens loss of leadership this offseason, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Between the departures of Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, and C.J. Mosley, there’s no denying the team lost three established veterans and vocal guys. Personally, I think the potential leadership void narrative has been a bit overblown in the media, but having veterans and culture guys in the locker room and on the field is certainly important. Even though it’ll be his first year in Baltimore, Thomas should strive to establish himself as a leader early and often. Given his experience and pedigree, younger players will likely look to him for guidance. He’s absorbed a lot of knowledge throughout his career and knows what it takes to be successful. Thomas doesn’t appear to be the most vocal guy but through leading by example, he can make an even bigger impact in his first year than he would by just simply performing well.
3) Record five or more interceptions
Thomas is widely-regarded as the premier ball-hawking safety in the league. His range, ball skills, and high IQ is probably the closest thing the league has seen to Ed Reed since he retired several years ago. Would you believe me if I said Thomas has never posted more than five interceptions in a single season? Probably not, but it’s true. This isn’t a slight towards Thomas, as interceptions aren’t the end-all-be-all measure of how good a defensive back is. Still, it’s a feat Thomas has not achieved since 2015, which was also the last time he played a full season. He was well on his way to setting a new career-high for INT’s last year before his season was cut short. Through four weeks, Thomas had three interceptions. Picking up right where he left off in the turnover department should be area of concentration for the six-time Pro Bowler.
4) Win the Comeback Player of the Year award
I touched on this as part of a bold predictions piece not too long ago, but is it really that bold after all? The Comeback Player of the Year award is almost always given to a player who has a big year after returning from injury. Thomas fits the second of these qualifications and while the “big year” remains to be seen, he figures to have a strong case to earn the honors if things fall into place accordingly. Awards are a combination of both performance and narrative. For Thomas, playing at a high level, helping the Ravens defense remain one of the better units in the league, and proving naysayers wrong is the formula. For his career, Thomas has six Pro Bowl nods, has been selected to an All-Pro team five times, and won a super bowl. There’s not many more accolades he could achieve, but this award would be a nice addition to the resume.
5) Get revenge on his former team
By now, everyone is familiar with Thomas’ not-so-pretty breakup with his former and longtime team, the Seattle Seahawks. The two sides had a falling out over contract differences and while Thomas may very well retire as a Seahawk one day, his most recent and perhaps final memory with the team was flicking off his own sideline while being carted off the field. The NFL schedule gods gave Thomas a gift by setting up a Week 7 clash between the Seahawks and Ravens in Seattle. You can bet Thomas will be motivated and hungry to beat his former team in THEIR stadium, and doing so should most definitely be an underlying goal next season.