Thurmond’s foolish mistake stresses Seahawks’ depth chart

OlympianNovember 25, 2013 

Soon after news broke Sunday about Walter Thurmond’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Seattle Seahawks cornerback turned to the most public of confessional booths.

Wrote Thurmond on his Twitter account: “I’m disappointed in myself for letting my teammates and family down.”

Thurmond let down more than his teammates and family. He let down the front office that pays him, the coaching staff that has given him a chance to win a championship ring and the fans whose affection for any Seahawks player is sincere but not unconditional.

Aside from the fact it wasn’t performance enhancing, I don’t know what Thurmond used to cost the Seahawks his work at a critical juncture in the season, or when he used it, or why he used it. That’s his business.

All I know is that 2013 was shaping up as the best year of Thurmond’s life.

He had avoided the injuries that limited him to five starts in his first three seasons. As a replacement for injured cornerback Brandon Browner, he provided the “Legion of Boom” secondary a seamless transition.

At 26, in the prime of his career, he was preparing for a deep playoff run, to be followed by a new contract promising a significant salary spike.

A four-game suspension doesn’t necessary undo all of that — he would be eligible for the Dec. 29 regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams — but Thurmond’s dream season always will be associated with his selfish choice to ignore easily understood rules.

The NFL isn’t an acronym for the No-Fun League. Sure, covering a receiver without drawing a pass-interference penalty is becoming ever more difficult, but off the field, players can pretty much do whatever they want and go wherever they please.

Use some common sense, they are told, and try to stay out of the news. Don’t drive while impaired. Don’t gamble on NFL games. Don’t exchange insults with knuckleheads outside a nightclub at 2 a.m.

Oh, and this: If you gulp, shoot, snort or smoke anything on the league’s banned substance list, regardless of its legality, you’ll be in breach of your contract and subject to punishment.

Thurmond might be a versatile talent, but he is not indispensable. The Seahawks considered themselves deep enough at cornerback during training camp to cut three-time Pro Bowl selection Antoine Winfield, who had signed a one-year, $3 million free-agent contract. Winfield couldn’t beat out the likes of Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane for a backup role, and retired.

Maxwell and Lane figure to be adequate substitutes for four weeks, while Browner recovers from a torn groin muscle and Thurmond tweets from home. But cornerback depth is less a luxury right now than a concern for the Seahawks.

The temporary loss of Thurmond brings to mind the Seahawks’ 2005 Super Bowl season, when safety Ken Hamlin was sidelined in October because of a head injury suffered during one of those 2 a.m. street fights discouraged by coaches.

The gap between Hamlin and Marquand Manuel was minimal. Resourceful and smart — he’s now a defensive assistant for the Seahawks — Manuel made it easy to forget Hamlin was out of the picture.

Early in the Hawks’ Super Bowl contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Manuel limped off the field with a hip injury. He was done for the day, forcing rookie Etric Pruitt — the backup to the backup for Hamlin — into action. Pruitt took the wrong angle on Willie Parker’s 75-yard touchdown run, then strayed out of his zone coverage on Antwaan Randle El’s halfback reverse pass to Hines Ward, which gave the Steelers another touchdown.

A depth chart, Seahawks fans were reminded that day, isn’t bottomless. At some point, losing two players at one position has serious consequences.

If the Hawks advance to the Super Bowl, cornerback depth probably won’t be an issue. Browner is expected to be at full strength within a month, and Thurmond will have served his suspension.

The problem is more immediate: The New Orleans Saints, who at 9-2 are battling the 10-1 Seahawks for home-field advantage in the playoffs, visit Seattle next Monday night.

Thurmond’s suspension disappointed a lot of people Sunday, but Saints quarterback Drew Brees probably was not one of them.

He will challenge the backup corners early and often. If Maxwell tweaks a muscle, if Lane turns an ankle — suddenly there are lots of “ifs” in play, and they’re all plausible — the Saints likely replace the Seahawks as NFC front-runners.

Again, I don’t know what Walter Thurmond did to violate NFL rules. And again, I don’t care.

I just hope his trashing of the best year of his life doesn’t deprive the Seahawks of the best year in their history.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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