Sunday afternoon, the Earl Thomas era in Baltimore ended in a manner no one thought possible just a few days ago.
And if there was any doubt about what the future holds for the Ravens, coach John Harbaugh and pass defense coordinator Chris Hewitt were clear in their press conferences after practice they’re looking ahead.
“I think the statement speaks for itself,” Harbaugh said. “There’s really not much more to add to that. Just planning on leaving you at that, at this point.”
The Ravens terminated Thomas’ contract just before the team hit the field on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium for “personal conduct that has adversely affected the Baltimore Ravens.” The expectation is there will be a grievance filed to determine how much, if any, money the Ravens will owe Thomas, who was due $10 million in guaranteed money in the 2020 season.
Thomas signed a four-year, $55 million deal with the Ravens in March 2019 but struggled early in his tenure as a Raven. He improved as the season wore on, helping the Ravens' defense to the third-best defense in the league in terms of points allowed. He was expected to start alongside safety Chuck Clark in the Ravens’ secondary, before a skirmish on Friday where Thomas reportedly threw a punch at Clark set things in motion for his release.
After being kept at home from practice on Saturday, the Ravens made the official announcement Sunday. When asked to discuss what the secondary was losing without Thomas, Harbaugh declined to comment.
“No, I’m good, we’re good moving forward,” Harbaugh said. “Eyes ahead.”
Pass defense coordinator Chris Hewitt had a similar answer when asked about the departure of Thomas.
“I thought coach (Harbaugh) already talked about that, we’re moving on in a different direction,” Hewitt said. “You guys want to keep on talking about Earl Thomas, I think we’ve already addressed that.”
Harbaugh also declined to comment on the reports that the players on the team wanted Thomas gone, or that they had anything to do with his release.
“Not really, no reason to (comment),” Harbaugh said. “We always talk, we have great communication with our players. We talk about everything all the time. That’s where we’re at with it, we always talk with it.”
Now, financial aspects aside, the Ravens are faced with replacing the seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. That starts with safety DeShon Elliott.
Elliott, a 6th round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, broke a bone in his arm in 2018 and suffered a season-ending knee injury last year. He’s ended both of his seasons in the NFL on injured reserve.
Ever confident, Elliott has the support of the secondary and the coaching staff as he figures to step into his new role. Harbaugh said it’s “his time” during his press conference Sunday.
“DeShon has been ready to go ever since he got here as a rookie,” Hewitt said. “I've been really impressed with him from the time that he came in here. He’s a hard-charging kid, knows the defense in his third year, has some unfortunate injuries and that’s limited him to six or seven games, something like that. I’m looking forward to see what he can do when he gets out there."
The Dallas native and Texas alum will get the first, and likely longest, crack at becoming the team’s starting safety in place of Thomas.
At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Elliott, 23, certainly has the athleticism and physicality to be a successful starter for the Ravens. Players and coaches have also raved about his tireless work ethic and character, as he’s known for being one of the hardest working players on the team.
Other Ravens safeties on the team are: Anthony Levine, Jordan Richards, Geno Stone (seventh-round rookie) and Nigel Warrior (undrafted rookie). The team has 77 players on the 80-man roster, meaning there’s room to add a veteran safety or two if the team feels so inclined.
Still, they’ve got more options than just what’s on the roster at safety right now.
The team has used Jimmy Smith at safety in certain packages and coverages. Hewitt called Smith a top-flight cornerback, but said the team would rotate is it saw fit.
“The way we play in our secondary, we have a lot of guys who do a lot of interchangeable things and we move guys around,” Hewitt said. “We’re going to optimize our looks as far as matchups are concerned.”
All options are on the table for the Ravens right now, options unthinkable less than a week ago. But as Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic reported, Thomas’ latest incident was the last in a line of reported dustups.
Now, Thomas will look for a new team while a fight over money almost certainly ensues.
And while Thomas is looking for his new home, the Ravens will be looking to fill Thomas’ roster spot.
“But we’ve got good safeties, we’ve got young guys that are practicing and we’ll see how they do,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just do what we always do, put the best players we have out there, prepare them and get ready to go play. It’s nothing different.”