In each of the previous two drafts since installing this defense, fans have loved safeties who get an Earl Thomas comparison — so why not sign the real thing, now that he’s a free agent? A free agent from very same team the 49ers are trying to emulate.
Safety Earl Thomas had a tumultuous 2018 on and off the field, given his contract dispute with the Seahawks and then a leg injury to end his season early. The 29-year old was still effective in his last two seasons, racking up 110 tackles, five interceptions and 12 passes defensed in an 18-game span.
Pro Football Focus rated Thomas with a 90.0-plus grade and while his health will be a big question mark, it’s still more than worth the risk for San Francisco. Here’s some of Thomas’ highlights and key plays from his four games this past season.
His best game of the season came against the Dallas Cowboys, racking up multiple interceptions. The first was a result of Thomas being in the right place at the right time. A ball was ripped away from a Cowboys receiver and he managed to grab it.
Thomas showed off his elite run defending skills against running back Ezekiel Elliott, bringing him down on this play in a solo effort.
Wideout Tavon Austin is one of Dallas’ quickest skill players, yet Thomas was first to push him out of bounds on this play for no gain. Thomas continues to show the vision, patience and sound tackling ability that’s necessary to be a single-high safety in the NFL.
Although the play resulted in a Thomas’ penalty for taunting, it’s another case of the center-field safety being in the right position at the right time. Thomas is able to come down with the deflected pass, before strutting down the Cowboys’ sideline, letting them know what they’re missing out on.
Thomas also has been effective in defending larger players, notably tight ends. Against the Bears on Monday Night Football, Thomas brought down the Bears’ big pass catching target immediately for no yards after the catch.
Various injuries forced a rotating door at free safety over the last two years for the 49ers. Saleh continues to look for stability at the position, but has yet to find it. With former teammate Richard Sherman doing some recruiting, plus the ample cap space the available, there’s a real chance Thomas ends up with San Francisco.