Ryan Mayer

This weekend saw the likely end of safety Earl Thomas’ time in Seattle, as he suffered a leg fracture against the Cardinals, and the Seahawks have yet to offer him a contract. While he was being carted off the field, Thomas flipped the middle finger towards the Seahawks sideline in an apparent boiling-over of frustration about how his contract negotiations have been handled by the team.

The reaction from media and fans alike has been mixed. Some sympathize with Thomas’s feelings, while others think that the gesture was unprofessional. With the sports world continuing to debate Thomas’s reaction and player contract disputes in the NFL in general, we asked a former player for his thoughts. Boomer Esiason played 14 years in the NFL with the Bengals, Jets and Cardinals. Now an analyst for The NFL Today on CBS and Showtime’s Inside The NFL, he seemed the perfect person to weigh in. You can catch Boomer alongside fellow analysts Ray Lewis and Phil Simms and host James Brown every Tuesday night, when Inside The NFL airs on Showtime. (Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)

CBS Local Sports: What did you think of the way Earl Thomas reacted to his season-ending injury?

Boomer Esiason: Every player is emotional, especially when they get injured, because the first thing that flashes before your eyes is your career. Then, given his present situation, with his unhappiness in his contract and his conversations with Pete Carroll his head coach, I think that bird was definitely directed at the head coach. I understand it, but I think he’ll come to regret it in the long run, because when people show him that picture, he may consider himself over-emotional and angry at the time. In the long run, I think he’ll regret it.

CBS Local Sports: Fans never really side with the player in holdout situations, why do you think that is?

Boomer Esiason: First and foremost, he didn’t hold out, he came back. Now, he held out of training camp, of course, because that’s the only leverage you have as a player… yourself and your ability to be better than what they have on the roster right now. They’re always trying to replace you, that’s just the nature of the business. If you can find somebody younger or cheaper, they’ll put that person in your place if you’re not playing to the level that they expect.

It’s always a really weird situation for the player. And for the fan, because if the fan is paying $250 a ticket, he doesn’t want to hear a player getting upset about a $9-10 million dollar salary. I never begrudge a player in the NFL for holding out, simply because of the length of the career and the propensity for injury. When you put the two of those together, you realize why the player has to do what he’s doing.

I understand why Le’Veon Bell is doing what he’s doing, because especially in the game of football, you are taking your career into your own hands every time you step out onto the field.

CBS Local Sports: Should all players take the Le’Veon Bell route, holding out until it’s necessary to come back so you can be a free agent? Or is there a better way in contract disputes like this?

Boomer Esiason: No, I don’t. At the end of the day it’s only one player holding out, out of the entire league. Now, there are certain rules and restrictions that don’t allow players to hit the open market and get what they’re worth. The players have to negotiate those things out of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement). Things like the franchise tag, the transition tag, or the fifth-year option on first-round draft picks. All of those things have to get negotiated out of the CBA and, if they do, then we won’t have the situation that we’re having with Le’Veon Bell and we wouldn’t have the situation with Earl Thomas. Most teams would be forced to sign players, or players would be able to walk from their original teams and get the money that they feel they deserve. There are target points that the players have to work on in the CBA, but until they do that, they have to play under these current rules.