Earl Thomas is a rich man.
Not that he wasn’t already, he was a first round pick in the old collective bargaining era, but he more wealthy now than he used to be after Seattle announced he and the team have agreed to a contract extension. The deal is reportedly worth $40 million over the next four years with a little under $28 million being guaranteed. This is a pretty nice haul for a man who now has the richest annual value contract for a safety in NFL history.
The #Seahawks four-year extension for safety Earl Thomas pays him $40 million base value with $27.725 million guaranteed, source says.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 28, 2014
Here are three initial thoughts of what this means for Berry and the Chiefs moving forward.
1. The Game Is Changing
A common refrain from critics of Thomas’ extension, and critics of Eric Berry, is this is too much money to be spent on a safety. History, they say, suggests a safety should not make this much money, and it is unwise to spend so much of the salary cap at the position.
These sentiments would have been true 10 years ago, however the game has changed significantly since then. Consider running backs and their changing value. There is a strong likelihood no running back will be drafted in the first round for the second straight year. Many teams are not signing running backs to big contracts after the age of 28 anymore. Championships used to be built on the legs of running backs – a popular belief of Carl Peterson – but now they’re built on the arms of quarterbacks.
What was true in 2000 is no longer true now when it comes to how the game is played. The teams who evolve and recognize the value of different players and different positions as the game changes will be the teams who are still alive in late January.
It is also important to note that two of the eight highest paid safeties in the NFL play for the Seattle Seahawks. Make of that what you will.
2. The Money Isn’t As Bad As You’d Think
Jairus Byrd signed a six-year, $54 million deal on the open market to play for the New Orleans Saints this past March. At no point in his contract will his cap number be more than what Berry’s will be this season. This tells us several things: A) It’s good to be a top free agent B) the old CBA sucked C) Berry’s next deal may be more team friendly than his rookie deal.
Specific deals of Thomas’ contract have not been released, but one would assume it is not evenly spread out at $10 million per season. It is interesting to note that, while his annual average is higher, he got fewer years and less overall money than Byrd. This only reinforced the idea that it’s all about the guaranteed money.
Byrd guaranteed: $18.3 million
Thomas guaranteed: $27.725 million
3. Berry Could Be Cheaper
According to Pro Football Focus, Eric Berry (+14.5) was a better cumulative player than Earl Thomas (+7.5) and Jarius Byrd (+9.9) last season. Even more surprisingly, Berry graded higher in pass coverage than both of those men. This becomes more impressive when one considers Berry was targeted 63 times compared to Thomas and Byrd’s combine 50 targets.
However, it also tells you how good Thomas and Byrd are that they can post such high numbers with so few targets. Their abilities to create plays with few opportunities is what helps them get the nod over Berry.
A well-earned contract for @Earl_Thomas. He’s the best defensive back in the NFL.
The difference between Earl Thomas and Eric Berry is that one allows you to get creative on defense and the other forces you to be.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) April 28, 2014
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 28, 2014
It is important to note Berry is losing the best safety in football argument. Being in the argument means you’re pretty damn good. So what does that mean for how he should be valued?
If the consensus is he is not as good as Thomas then he should expect less money than Thomas, no? The odds he’ll hit the free market are very low considering how cheap it would be for the Chiefs to use the franchise tag on him ($8.433 million in 2014). Only tight ends, kickers, and punters are cheaper.
Ultimately, the right move is to keep Berry in Kansas City, even though pundits will criticize the move. The new CBA requires most all of the cap money to be spent and that means every team is going to have some obnoxiously paid players. I’d rather those players making $10 million per year be guys like Berry as opposed to, say, this guy.