The 49ers potentially landing now-free agent safety Earl Thomas seems like a good idea until one dives deeper into the actual possibility of it happening.
“Nope. Nah. No thanks.”
On Sunday, the Ravens announced they were parting ways with Thomas after a mid-practice altercation with fellow defensive back Chuck Clark, effectively making Thomas a free agent immediately.
Naturally, just like most other 31 teams across the league, it didn’t take long for Niners fans to start thinking Thomas would look good in the red and gold.
And on the surface, he would. There’s no questioning Thomas, 31 years old, would be an upgrade over San Francisco’s current free safety, Jimmie Ward. Many would argue Thomas is the pinnacle single-high free safety option in the NFL right now. He would, after all, be a relatively seamless fit in the traditional Cover 3 single-high system employed by the 49ers.
Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh adopted the system from the Seattle Seahawks where Thomas made his name known from 2010 through 2018.
Some could also bring back the “what if?” question: What if Thomas was on the field for that now-infamous 3rd-and-15 conversion in the Super Bowl and not Ward? Would the 49ers have won Super Bowl LIV instead?
Maybe. It’s a what-if question, and what-ifs don’t exist.
And neither should the idea San Francisco will go after Thomas.
Why 49ers must pass on Earl Thomas
First, there’s the money. If you want a solid answer to anything NFL related, just look at the money.
Thomas originally signed a four-year, $55 million deal with Baltimore in 2019, making him the second-highest-paid safety in the league behind Washington’s Landon Collins at the time. While Thomas would probably agree to a lesser deal somewhere else, don’t anticipate him playing on a bargain-level contract. It’s likely he’ll still command roughly $13 million annually.
The Niners, meanwhile, have $12.7 million in cap space this season and an additional $169.9 million committed to players in 2021 when the cap is expected to drop as low as $175 million.
Simply put, there’s not a lot of space for San Francisco to absorb Thomas’ probable asking price.
Yet the problems go beyond just the money. The Ravens wouldn’t have parted ways with Thomas amid just one incident. And according to the initial report, they’ll have to absorb a $15 million cap hit just for doing so. It’s a major indication there was more going on behind the scenes than just one scuffle one time with a single teammate.
As for the 49ers, they already were bitten by a player in their recent past who had run-ins and character concerns, linebacker Reuben Foster, whom Sanchez mentioned in his analysis.
Do the Niners want to go down that road again? Probably not.
Ward, meanwhile, is a favorite of head coach Kyle Shanahan and also signed his own three-year, $28.5 million deal this offseason. From the financial standpoint, it’d be silly to move on there, too, and Ward wasn’t exactly a liability for a Niners defense that allowed the fewest pass yards in the league last season (2,707).
So, would Thomas be an upgrade? Sure. Is it necessary San Francisco signs him? No.
Should the 49ers do it anyway? It’s a “no” there, too.