RENTON -- Earl Thomas makes his return to Seattle on Sunday as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. He'll be an opponent in CenturyLink Field for the first time in his career after spending the first nine years of his career with the Seahawks prior to a prickly departure from the team last season.
But if there's any animosity between Thomas and the Seahawks, it appears difficult to find this week.
"I definitely respect and love the organization," Thomas said with reporters in Baltimore this week. "They gave me my first shot. I won so many games there. I grew up as a young man there, starting when I was 20 years old. So, I'm always going to respect the organization, and I'm always going to be a part of it, especially winning the Super Bowl."
The last year-and-a-half of Thomas' tenure with the team wasn't the most ideal stretch for the team or Thomas.
Thomas ran to the opposing locker room after a game in Dallas against the Cowboys -- his favorite team growing up -- and told head coach Jason Garrett "if you have a chance to get me, come get me." Thomas irked teammate Bobby Wagner by suggesting he shouldn't have played in a game against the Los Angeles Rams weeks later because a hamstring injury Wagner was playing with was hurting the team. Wagner directly responded to Thomas on Twitter telling him to "keep my name out yo mouth."
While the latter incident seemed to be merely a blip, Thomas' desire for a new contract from the team led to a breaking point. Thomas held out from all offseason work and training camp last year with Seattle in hopes of leveraging a new deal from the Seahawks. That deal never came for Thomas, who returned for the start of the regular season. However, Thomas' season for Seattle would last just four games before a broken leg ended his season for the second time in three years.
In his last moment in a Seahawks uniform, Thomas was carted off the field an raised a middle finger in head coach Pete Carroll's direction as he left the field of play.
Carroll never let that moment sour him on Thomas or his legacy in Seattle.
"I haven’t seen him much since then. Obviously, he was upset," Carroll said. "My heart is pretty big, pretty wide open to these guys from the time we spend together and all the stuff that we do. It’s way more important than something that happens, some gesture or some statement. There’s a lot of chances I could’ve come back to stuff guys have said when they leave. I kind of have space for them to be themselves and how they do it and how they handled it. I’m going to love him anyway."
Thomas was named to the Pro Bowl six times in his nine seasons with Seattle. He was named a first-team All-Pro three times. He intercepted 28 passes and forced 10 fumbles over that span as well.
"We’ve been through this a number of times. I love playing our guys. I always do. I always like playing people that I know," Carroll said. "Earl was a great football player in the years that he was with us. We loved what he did. His uniqueness, his style of play. The way he practices and focuses was somewhat unmatchable. We just couldn’t stay together forever. We couldn’t figure out how to do that. We wish him the best and we look forward to it."
Quarterback Russell Wilson said that he and Thomas have a great relationship and have remained in regular contract since Thomas left the team.
"We actually text quite a bit and communicate even during the season sometimes. I think for Earl and I, we’ve shared a lot of similarities just in terms of his passion for the game. He loves the game. I think for us, my family and his, we’ve shared a lot of cool moments together," Wilson said.
"I love Earl. I love his family, too, his kids and everybody else. It’s been cool just to get to know his family, his mom, his dad, and everything else, too.”
What Wilson doesn't love is now having to play against him for the first time.
"I hate having to play Earl because we spent so much time together," Wilson said.
"For facing against him for seven years, it was always a tough challenge every day in practice. He was amazing. Just how fast he was, sideline to sideline kind of guy. Physical. He brought it every day. The thing I loved about Earl was watching him practice. He was such a true professional. ... He truly treated every walkthrough, every practice, every moment from OTAs to training camp to regular season to the walkthroughs before Super Bowls. He treated every walk through the same. Had an amazing professionalism, amazing focus. He was a guy who envisioned making great plays. He was a true pro.”
Thomas also spoke highly of his relationship with Wilson.
"I'm always going to have nothing but positivity when talking about Russ [Wilson], because Russ has always been good to me and my family," Thomas said. "My kids and his kids are close. My wife and his wife are close. And when you think about all the games we played together, there have been some times when we struggled, but there's been more times when he came through for us when we needed him. So, it's just the game."
Given the way his tenure with Seattle ended, Thomas said he has thought about the reception he'll receive in his return to Seattle on Sunday.
"Yes, I've thought about it at night," Thomas said. "Hopefully they respect what I've done, and I'll get a couple cheers, not too many boos. And whatever happens, happens, but hopefully it's love."
Linebacker Bobby Wagner said that's exactly the response Thomas deserves to receive.
"It should be appreciation," Wagner said. "He did so much for this organization, he did so much for this team. He’s a legend here. I would expect him to be well received. It’s a guy whose jersey will probably be retired and there should be a lot of respect for him.”
Photo Credit: MIAMI, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 08: Earl Thomas #29 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled after a interception against the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)