When Earl Thomas rode off the field at Arizona in September, his broken left leg wrapped in an air cast and his middle finger extended toward the Seattle sideline, it seemed like the final image of the star safety in a Seahawks uniform.
Nothing that has happened since would suggest otherwise -- certainly nothing coach Pete Carroll has said.
"Uh, we'll see what happens," said Carroll at season's end when asked if he would like Thomas back. "I don't know what -- yeah, I'd love it. Earl's a great player. I don't know what that means for a contract and all that stuff, but it's one of the issues. We've got a bunch of them.''
Then at the scouting combine, Carroll praised Thomas but stopped short on the subject of re-signing him: "He's been a fantastic part of everything, and I'm rooting for him. So we've just got to wait and see what happens, but he's going to have some great choices, I'm sure."
Every sign has pointed to Thomas finding a new home when free agency begins next week. The Seahawks have roughly $33 million in 2019 cap space. That would be enough to give Thomas a contract near the top of the market, if they so desired. But it wasn't for lack of cap space that they declined to do so with an extension last year. They had the money then too. It was about their unwillingness to reinvest in a player nearing 30 years of age after getting reminders from Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett of the danger in paying big money on third contracts.
Why would they be any more inclined to do that now?
If there's a minuscule chance of reunion, it's because Thomas doesn't like any of the other offers in a safety market loaded with other big names such as Landon Collins, Eric Weddle, Tyrann Mathieu and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Thomas could conceivably find it appealing to take a one-year deal to beef up his value in a familiar setting.
It's much more likely, though, that he finds his megadeal.
As for replacing him, the Seahawks are much higher on Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson than many fans seem to be. Carroll singled out Hill after the season and again at the combine as a player with a bright future. And Bradley McDougald has the ability to play both strong safety and free safety.
The Seahawks also could draft a safety and/or sign one out of the deep free-agent pool.
Some thoughts on Seattle's other pending free agents:
LB K.J. Wright: He will be 30 in July, and he missed 11 games last season because of a knee injury, so it's hard to imagine the Seahawks making him a priority. That said, Wright has been another pillar of Seattle's defense, and he was "phenomenal" -- in general manager John Schneider's words -- when he came back late last season. There also is value in his locker room presence. Prediction: Wright will get more than the $6.75 million he was making from the Seahawks, and they'll say goodbye to another franchise great.
LB Mychal Kendricks: Carroll made multiple mentions of how Kendricks remains in the Seahawks' plans, but his availability is in question, as he is scheduled to be sentenced for insider trading charges on April 4. He played well in Wright's absence, albeit in only four games. Prediction: Kendricks returns on another one-year deal ... at some point.
CB Justin Coleman: Some occasionally spotty tackling notwithstanding, Coleman has given Seattle strong play while manning the slot over the past two seasons. The Seahawks' style of cornerback play can be hard for veterans to pick up, which makes bringing in a free agent a dicey proposition. Coleman is young (almost 26), durable (hasn't missed a game in Seattle) and productive (19 passes defended over the past two seasons). Prediction: The $8.615 million per year that Baltimore just gave Tavon Young raises the bar for nickelbacks beyond what the Seahawks want to pay Coleman. Bringing back Akeem King gives the Seahawks an option to replace him in the slot.
RG D.J. Fluker and LG J.R. Sweezy: Both came to Seattle last year on deals that paid them less than $2 million apiece, reflective of their soft markets. The Seahawks would like to bring them back, presumably for much less than the $5.4 million per year that Mark Glowinski just got from the Colts. Because Sweezy is considered better in run blocking than in pass protection, he might not be as valued by other teams who run less than the Seahawks. Prediction: Sweezy returns on a one-year deal worth around $3 million, while Fluker signs for more money elsewhere.
RB Mike Davis: Davis had a 728 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns backing up Chris Carson last season. But Seattle didn't draft Rashaad Penny 27th overall to keep him in the No. 3 role. Prediction: Davis will find a better opportunity elsewhere.
QB Brett Hundley: He never saw the field last season after being acquired in a trade from the Packers. Given Russell Wilson's durability, it's hard to imagine the Seahawks wanting to pay much more than the league minimum to bring him back. Prediction: Hundley returns on a one-year deal worth less than $1 million.
K Sebastian Janikowski: Seabass' up-and-down season included three game-winning kicks as time expired but just an 81.5 percent field goal rate that ranked 23rd in the league. It makes sense to look for a younger replacement with more long-term upside than Janikowski, 41. Prediction: Janikowski won't be back.
DE Dion Jordan: Jordan has reclaimed his career in Seattle, but injuries have limited him to 17 games over the past two seasons, and this draft is deep with edge players. Prediction: Jordan won't be back.
DT Shamar Stephen: The Seahawks probably will look to upgrade the starting defensive tackle position next to Jarran Reed, after they allowed 4.9 yards per carry, third most in the NFL last season. Prediction: Stephen won't be back.
CB Neiko Thorpe: Thorpe has been an excellent special-teams player, and he was a captain, but he is not a regular defensive contributor. Prediction: Thorpe won't be back.
S Maurice Alexander: Alexander's 10 special-teams tackles were third most last season, even though he was 15th in special-teams snaps, per Pro Football Reference. Prediction: Alexander returns on a one-year minimum deal.