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Three items that matter in the Cowboys pursuit of free agent safety Earl Thomas

The story that won’t die - Earl Thomas to the Cowboys - is still very much alive.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

We have proof we are living in a zombie apocalypse. The story that has died a thousand deaths keeps coming back to life - Earl Thomas to the Cowboys. Everyone believed that when Thomas signed a four-year, $55 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens in March of 2019, that the dream of Thomas donning the star was over. By the time that deal would end, Thomas would be in his mid-thirties and likely near retirement.

But like so many times before, Thomas to Dallas was brought back to life. This time, it happened when the Ravens released the future Hall of Famer after he threw punches at teammate Chuck Clark. Importantly, the Ravens intend to invoke a conduct clause in NFL contracts to not pay Thomas the $10 million he is still guaranteed.

Thomas is now a free agent and can sign anywhere. Immediately, the Cowboys were the team that went to the head of the list for apparent destinations. Given the multiple flirtations between Thomas and the Cowboys, that was certainly understandable. But just how much truth is there to that? It’s hard to know, but here are three items to consider.

#1 - Talent

Mike McCarthy was asked about Thomas in a press conference, and didn’t really commit one way or the other. Of course he complimented his current safeties, but mainly said the decision would be more in the Joneses court.

“We’re very confident in where we are as far as the 80-man roster. As far as any prospect that’s available, those are more conversations for Jerry [Jones], Stephen [Jones] and Will McClay, as far as looking at that situation,” McCarthy said Monday, deferring to the team’s front office. “So I have nothing, really, to report.”

Previously, McCarthy had praised Xavier Woods and the rest of the safety group.

“I like what Xavier and all those guys are performing,” said McCarthy, who also said that the Cowboys have spent a good portion of camp trying out different personnel groupings on both sides of the ball. “Communication is such a big part of training camp and progress, and I think all of our guys are doing a good job of that.”

That’s one element to this equation. Do the Cowboys think they need to upgrade the talent at the safety position? Woods seems like an ascending player, and the Cowboys did go out and sign Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to play alongside Woods. But that plan already seems to be in flux, at least based on what reporters are seeing at camp.

If that’s the case, then you would think the Cowboys would certainly be in the market for Thomas, obviously at a reasonable price (more on that in a bit). Based on talent alone, Thomas would seem like a good fit, especially given his record as a ball-hawking safety.

There is the question of why Thomas is available. Many, many players have gotten into fights with teammates at practices in the past, and teams usually don’t release one of the participants, especially if that participant is a former All-Pro, current Pro Bowler, who is considered as one of the best safeties of his generation. Sure, Thomas is no longer at his peak, but he can still ball.

Or can he? There is no doubt he’s not the player he was in Seattle during the Legion of Boom days, and there whispers about a decline. Todd Archer cites sources who said:

According to two personnel executives with other teams, Thomas did not look like a willing tackler and was beaten more in coverage during his one season with the Ravens.

#2 - Chemistry

So just how much was the Ravens decision influenced by what he was showing on the field, and how much from other transgressions during his time in Baltimore? There was a previous heated exchange between Thomas and nose tackle Brandon Williams last year. It has also been reported that Thomas has missed or been late to several meetings. Did the Ravens just reach a breaking point with team chemistry?

That brings up another point Dallas has to consider. Back to McCarthy:

“Everything’s looked at, and at the end of the day I think the most important question you need to ask is: How does a player fit into the locker room? Because to me, that’s usually a huge determining factor on if it happens or if it doesn’t happen, too,” McCarthy said. “And just like anything in this business, there has to be a mutual, you know, understanding to bring those things together. At the end of the day, as the head coach, my focus is on our current locker room.”

We also can’t forget Thomas giving Pete Carroll the finger after he was hurt in a game during the 2018 season. Thomas’ conduct lately is certainly calling into question the issue of chemistry.

#3 - Money

You got talent, you got chemistry, and in the end you’ve always got money. If the Cowboys are going to sign Thomas, they need to decide just how much money they will spend.

Just recently, the Cowboys have freed up cap space. They released Gerald McCoy on an injury clause and got back $3.25 million of cap space. They also restructured Tyron Smith for roughly $7 million of relief. So they have some money to spend if they choose.

But the McCoy release obviously came unexpectedly for the team, and the Smith restructure had been in the works for weeks. Neither was in anyway designed for signing Thomas (or any other free agent), and obviously the Cowboys had no idea Thomas would become available. The thought is they want to carry over cap space to next season for signing Dak Prescott to a long-term deal.

There is also the consideration of the Ravens attempt to get the $10 million Thomas is guaranteed nullified. If Thomas is expecting to get that payment, he may be willing to sign for a lower-than-expected amount in Dallas. If he isn’t going to get that money, he might be more inclined to push for a bigger contract when he signs with a new team. Given there is likely going to be a fight between the Ravens and the NFLPA over that money, Thomas might not know any time soon whether he will get that money or not.

In the end, there is a lot to consider for the Cowboys. There are definitely pros and cons here, leading to some ambivalence among Cowboys fans. Let’s let David Helman have the last word. He was asked if Thomas would be a good fit for the Cowboys and should they pursue him.

David: I’m shocked that I feel so conflicted by this issue. Just one year ago, I’d have been all over this without a second of hesitation. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that things have ended poorly for Thomas in two different cities. And at the risk of sounding cynical, it’s very rare that NFL teams release All-Pro players if they’re still playing at that level. At the end of the day, I guess I’m still interested. But if I were the Cowboys, I would do a ton of due diligence before I signed him. We’ve seen the negative impact that a bad locker room presence can have on this team.

Well said.

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