GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The last image of Earl Thomas in a Seattle Seahawks uniform might be the star safety riding into the locker room on the back of an injury cart, his broken left leg in an air cast, his middle finger extended toward the sideline of the team with which he has spent his entire career.
If this was it for Thomas and Seattle -- and for what was left of the famed Legion of Boom secondary -- then it's hard to imagine a more inglorious or unfortunate ending.
That's true for all involved.
It's true for Thomas, who was trying to secure a new contract or trade to a team that would give him one because, like many players in his situation, he wanted financial protection against the type of injury he suffered Sunday. He'll presumably head toward free agency this coming offseason as a 30-year-old safety coming off his second broken leg in three seasons.
It's true for the Seahawks, who lost one of their best players and biggest assets. The argument against trading Thomas, even though the two sides seemed headed for a split this upcoming offseason, was that his presence as a playmaker could make up the difference between what the Seahawks would get by dealing him (reports had them asking for a 2019 second-round pick) and whatever they'd get by letting him walk in free agency (at best a third-round compensatory pick in 2020). Now they have neither the player nor the trade chip.
And it's true for the relationship between the Seahawks and Thomas, a Hall of Fame-caliber player who has been in Seattle for the entirety of the greatest stretch in franchise history. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had talked this week about the two sides being in a "good place," having apparently mended fences after a defiant Thomas said he had sat out of a practice because the team hadn't invested in him like he is in himself.
"If you would have listened to what I was saying all the way through the process of it, I was always counting on that we would be able to figure where to go with this thing," Carroll said Sunday. "I knew it was going to take time and we didn't have the time when we weren't together. … We just have so much background and so much history, I just thought we could make it. We talked our way through it and made sense of what was coming up and the opportunities and all of that. It's what makes it so ..."
Carroll stopped, paused and shook his head.
"It's makes it so hard that this is what happened," he continued. "So what kind of U-turn [did we make]? I don't know. You're really never going to know. But it's one that I feel very good in my heart about. I love Earl. I've always loved him, I've loved everything he's ever done for us, everything he's ever stood for, how he's been a leader and just a guy out in front always with his unbelievable heart and competitiveness and his drive to be great, to be great. I've admired it the whole time. It wasn't always smooth, but it's always been good. And I'm proud of the relationship that we had. My heart breaks for him."
It was reminiscent of what Carroll said while standing in front of the same podium inside the same room last November, when Richard Sherman suffered an Achilles injury against Arizona that ended his season and effectively his career in Seattle. Carroll got emotional while talking about what Sherman has meant to him and the organization, through times good and bad.
While it wasn't immediately apparent at the time, it was in that same game Kam Chancellor suffered the neck injury that will almost certainly prevent him from playing again.
So one of the most famous secondaries in NFL history may have all come undone on the same field in the desert.
"I don't know," Carroll said when asked if he thinks this was Thomas' last game for Seattle. "I hope not. I'm not counting on that. I hope not."
Said quarterback Russell Wilson: "I hope I get to play with Earl again."
It can't be ruled out entirely, but the two ways in which that would happen don't seem at all likely.
While Thomas was certainly making a strong case for an extension with three interceptions over the first three games, his latest injury would make the Seahawks less willing to give him the type of lucrative third contract they got burned on with Chancellor and Michael Bennett.
They have the franchise tag at their disposal, but would they want to deal with another contract dispute with Thomas if they figure he'd hold out again for a long-term deal?
It all points to the likelihood Thomas has played his final game with the Seahawks. Absent an extension, it seemed like things weren't going to end well between the two sides, whenever that time came.
If this is it, then it couldn't have ended much worse.