RENTON, Wash. — Locker No. 29 in the Seattle Seahawks locker room was once again occupied Wednesday after being vacant the entire offseason.
Earl Thomas was back after ending his lengthy holdout. His Instagram post on Wednesday morning announcing his return made it clear Thomas wasn't happy or satisfied. But he was present, giving the Seahawks a major boost heading into the start of the regular season.
"He's been with us for so long. He's just been part of the fabric of what we've been about," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "It's an adjustment period as he jumps in with us right now and we'll figure out how that works. ... I don't have any thought about what to share with you right now because we have to see what he does and how he feels and all that stuff, but it's great to have him back."
Thomas' return to the Seahawks facility was a welcome moment for the team and ended a long offseason of drama centered on whether he would play out the final season of his contract, receive the contract extension he hoped for, or possibly be traded. Thomas' reaction to the lack of a resolution was clear in his post: "The disrespect has been noted and will not be forgotten."
He's not happy, but he wasn't about to sacrifice a $500,000 game check or leave his teammates without one of their most important defensive leaders. Thomas wrote he's never let his "teammates, city or fans down as long as I have lived and don't plan to start this weekend."
But he was quick to add he's got plenty of good years remaining after his current contract expires.
"Father Time may have an undefeated record but best believe I plan on taking him into triple overtime when it comes to my career," Thomas wrote.
Thomas did not speak with reporters Wednesday. Carroll would not commit to whether Thomas would play against Denver on Sunday in the opener. Seattle received a roster exemption from the league to allow Thomas to practice.
Not surprisingly, Thomas seemed to be universally embraced upon his return, both as the longest-tenured Seahawks player and for the on-field boost he can give to Seattle's overhauled defense. Doug Baldwin said he ran up and gave Thomas a hug when he saw him in a team meeting. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. joked he became a better coach.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner understood the dynamics of Thomas' situation.
"I think football is football, business is business. That's coach Carroll and John Schneider, that's business," Wagner said. "At the end of the day you can't really hate a person for wanting to provide for his family. That's how I look at it. He's been playing at a high level, he wanted more money. That's kind of on them."
Thomas is a three-time first-team All-Pro and was the anchor for the Seattle defense that appeared in consecutive Super Bowls, winning the first. Aside from suffering a broken leg late in the 2016 season, Thomas has been a durable starter from the time he arrived in the league. He has missed just seven regular-season games in his career.
His holdout was based on seeking certainty for the long term. He asked for a trade if Seattle wasn't willing to give him a contract extension. The idea of a trade, for now, was squashed by Carroll on Wednesday when he said: "He's a Seahawk. He's always been and will be one forever."
The reality is Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent next spring just before his 30th birthday. In a post for The Players' Tribune earlier this summer, Thomas wrote that he was shaken by the injuries suffered by Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor — two other members of Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary — in a Thursday night game last season. Sherman ruptured his Achilles tendon, ending his season, and Chancellor suffered a neck injury. Sherman was released by Seattle in the offseason and signed with San Francisco. Chancellor — while not officially retired — is not expected to play again because of the injury.
Clearly, Thomas wants security, but he's putting aside his desires for now.
With Thomas out, Seattle has used Tedric Thompson as its primary free safety. Thompson missed the final preseason game with a shoulder stinger and rib injury suffered a week earlier, but was in line to start the opener. If Thomas is ready to play, he'll team with Bradley McDougald at strong safety. The pair played together for the latter half of last season following Chancellor's injury.
"I feel like we figured it out pretty well," McDougald said. "We ended up getting a good connection, a good relationship between us and I feel like we're going to pick up where we left off."