Earl Thomas loves the Cowboys. And when we say he loves them, we’re talking about the kind of devotion that might spur someone to regularly don a giant foam cowboy hat or tattoo a star on his nether regions.
After he and his Seahawks edged Dallas out of playoff contention last season, Thomas celebrated his team’s win by, uh, running into the Cowboys’ locker room and telling coach Jason Garrett, “If you have a chance to come get me, come get me.” The Longhorn legend and Orange native’s enthusiasm for the Cowboys hasn’t gone unnoticed by his Seattle teammates. “Everyone in [the Seahawks’] locker room knows Earl loves the Cowboys,” Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril said during an appearance on the NFL’s SiriusXM radio show. “He’d leave immediately after work just to catch them play Monday Night Football.”
For most of us, sports fandom is a one-way relationship. The players may represent many things to you, but they aren’t your peers. Being a Cowboy, or a member of whatever team you love most, is like being a member of the Avengers. That’s part of the fun of rooting for a team—it allows us to elevate the players to something more than just mere humans playing a game.
But it’s weird to think of Earl Thomas, one of the great NFL safeties, cheering for a team in that way. Thomas has met the Cowboys on the field six times in his career, and nothing about his performances in those games suggested he was doing them any favors—something Avril acknowledged to SiriusXM. “We didn’t take it too serious,” Avril said. “Whatever team he dresses up for, he’s gonna do his thing.” But players and managers alike spend so much time positioning football as a business that there’s something that feels very pure, if strange, about Thomas’s ability to put his fan hat on (even if Seahawks fans are probably bummed to think that one of their team’s all-time greats would have always preferred to play elsewhere).
Will Thomas ever get to live out his dream? Perhaps. Maybe even this season. Thomas has threatened to hold out from the Seahawks, preferring to be traded. The NFL makes forcing a trade difficult, but most coaches don’t want an unhappy player around. It was reported around the NFL draft that the Seahawks sought a second-round pick for Thomas, which the Cowboys balked at—but DallasCowboys.com writer Bryan Broaddus told 105.3 The Fan that he considered the team to still be in play for the safety. “I don’t believe Earl Thomas is going to sit out games for Seattle,” he said. “I really, really don’t. You’re talking about a guy that makes over $10 million. Players just don’t leave those checks on the field just for principal, for that reason. I think that Seattle is going to have to figure out something. The Cowboys are going to have to figure out something. And maybe they do work something out there.”
That’s a speculative claim, of course (something Broaddus made clear himself in a tweet), but it’s also still well within the realm of possibility. A second-rounder might be too much, but if Seattle accepts, say, a fourth round pick for the six-time Pro Bowler, Dallas might well make a deal.
If they do, they could get a version of Thomas that outstrips even his Legion of Boom heyday: one playing for Dallas instead of rushing home from work to watch them. As a safety, Thomas could easily play at a high level for another four or five years—Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu, and Ed Reed all routinely smashed opposing receivers well into their thirties, and Thomas, who only turned 29 in May, could buy the Cowboys several seasons of building in the secondary. At the moment, the current crop of safeties on the roster consists of two sixth-round draft picks and three undrafted free agents, none of whom have accomplished much on the pro level. Thomas is a likely Hall of Famer who has sustained a high level of play for his entire career.
It makes football sense, in other words, for the ‘Boys to consider Thomas—but more than that, it makes emotional sense. In the Stephen Jones era, the Cowboys have been ruthlessly unsentimental (see: Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, etc.), but making a play for Earl Thomas would reward every Cowboys fan with a dream: If you work hard, love the team, become one of the best players at your position the NFL has ever seen, earn six Pro Bowl nods, and push for a trade while still in your prime, maybe you, too, can end your career with a star on your helmet. It’d be like a fairy tale.