The season is less than 48 hours away from kick off, and neither Earl Thomas or LeVeon Bell have shown up for practice after holding out all summer. What’s more is both players seem content to give their perspective teams a glimpse at life without them. Holding out works if you’re good enough, as demonstrated by bigger name players such as Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack. With each Thomas and Bell being elite players at their positions it is a little curious that neither team seems to want to extend either player. Due to technicalities on the contract side of things, neither player is likely to sit out the entire year but if one were to – which would hurt more?
Knowing the LeVeon Bell contract situation was on the horizon a couple of years ago the Steelers drafted James Conner – a hometown hero that looks very similar to LeVeon regarding measurables. The Steelers quickly found out that they were in no position to rely on the rookie and were glad when Bell showed before week 1. This year is different as Bell has yet to make contact with the team and however Pittsburgh is in no panic. After a strong preseason showing, they believe they can rely on James Conner as long as they need to.
Bell is gambling not on James Conner not being as good as him but on Conner not being effective enough to appear as his optimal/cheaper replacement. Since 2013 the Steelers are 11-9 without Bell with the playoffs included. Without a dramatic dip in wins, it will be difficult for Bell to convince the Steelers that he is worth what he wants.
The Steelers have already proved capable without Bell on the field, and now with James Conner developing into a talented young running back, the Steelers are in an excellent position to not worry about when LeVeon shows up. At this point in their relationship, nobody would be surprised to see LeVeon Bell in a different uniform next season regardless of how successful Pittsburgh is this season.
Earl Thomas has been open from the beginning about what he wants from Seattle and why. After watching two of his hall of fame caliber teammates go down in the same game last season and never return for Seattle, Thomas doesn’t want to step back onto the field without a secure future. With the Seahawks in what looks to be a rebuilding position, Thomas comes to them at a crossroads. With such little talent on the defensive roster not having Earl Thomas might be the difference from being able to count on Russell to make plays and being hopelessly blown out each week.
Seattle waited things out and won a few years ago when Kam Chancellor tried to hold out, but things are in a much different place now and Earl being able to voice his opinion so openly might be the most significant change of all. Instead of being angry at him fans seem to sympathize with Thomas putting his body on the line without a guaranteed future. As confident as the Seattle front office appears at the moment, one can’t help but imagine them sweating as they watch the secondary get picked apart in a way has yet to be witnessed in some time.
Last year with Earl Thomas on the field the Seahawks secondary allowed 7 touchdowns and had 10 interceptions. Without Thomas, the touchdowns rose to 12 and interceptions fell to 1. Football Outsiders had the Seahawks ranked 5th in pass DVOA with Thomas on the field and 30th without him. Earl Thomas is a hall of fame presence that changes the outlook of the Seahawks entirely.
As badly as they need Earl Thomas, the Seahawks front office appears content to wait for his return without offering any goodwill measure such as waiving fines in the meantime.
As important as each player is to their respective teams when the Steelers and Seahawks take the field on Sunday, it will likely be Seattle looking worse off for not having paid their man. Without Earl Thomas in the secondary, the Seattle defense is a shell of its former self. The Steelers should be able to overcome the loss of one of their many playmakers as they have so many times over the last four seasons. The Seahawks, on the other hand, need Earl Thomas on the field if they have any hope this season.