Photo: Norm Hall (Getty Images)

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who held out before the season because he wanted a long-term contract in case he was injured, and who “held in” and skipped practices for the same reason, broke his leg in Sunday’s game and now has one leg and no long-term contract. At least his middle finger still worked.

Thomas’s bird, which was directed at his own team’s sideline, was a natural reaction to being proven absolutely right at a devastating cost. Maybe it wasn’t just adrenaline, but spite fueling him in that moment. His fear had been that if he didn’t exercise his leverage in August, he would lose all of it next offseason, whether it might manifest as a franchise tag by the Seahawks or an unfavorable contract from another team. Thomas’s teammates didn’t hold his reaction against him. Receiver Doug Baldwin completely understood it. Via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune:

“This why (Thomas held out and wanted paid). I know surface-level thinking tells you that he’s making a lot of money. But relative to this game, relative to what this world entails, he is a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player. He is the best safety in the league. Just like any other profession, you want to be paid accordingly. Especially when you have such a high risk of getting injured, of having a severe injury like what happened today.

“That is why he had to do what he had to do. It is heartbreaking for me because he goes out there and gives his all every day. He gave it all to his team once again. And unfortunately it didn’t work out this time.”

Linebacker Bobby Wagner, who got into and then resolved a brief spat with his teammate last season:

Defensive end Frank Clark:

Advertisement

This morning on a radio show, head coach Pete Carroll didn’t take the middle finger to heart:

Give him a new contract, too! No, seriously.

Defensive backs around the league also empathized. In an instant, Thomas’s situation could be theirs:

Advertisement

The most significant reaction was that of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who has held out through all of the regular season because he wants a long-term deal instead of a one-year $14.5 million franchise tender. Playing a punishing position at age 26, he doesn’t want to end up like Thomas. “Get right bro bro,” Bell wrote on ESPN’s Instagram post. “I’ll continue to be the ‘bad guy’ for ALL of us.”

Advertisement

Bell and other holdouts in the past have been willing to forfeit game checks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for this reason. It’s delayed gratification, the marshmallow test with something much more consequential than two fluffy pillows of sugar at stake. Thomas and other NFL players generate a lot of money for teams and the league. Only the best and luckiest players have long careers, and often times their jobs leave their bodies in such a state of disrepair that their post-football lives are filled with constant pain. If Le’Veon Bell returned to the Steelers, played on the franchise tag, and broke his leg, the team would be okay with letting him walk after the season—unless they could bring him back at a discount. You know, because he’d need to prove himself after his injury.

There is no good news in an almost-30-year-old football player on an expiring contract breaking his leg, but fortunately Thomas didn’t tear any ligaments. Assuming there are no setbacks, he should be fully recovered by the time free agency hits, just in time to get a diminished contract due to his injury. The last time Thomas broke his leg, he wanted to retire. Besides overcoming that mental hurdle, as well as months of rehab, and also a forced, long absence from the sport he plays to make money, he’ll be fine.