With disgruntled, recovering Earl Thomas, 49ers may want to explore options

We interrupt the offseason speculation connecting Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and the 49ers to consider a more realistic marriage: the 49ers and Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas.

The 49ers don’t have a recent history of trading for an All-Pro diva wideout such as Brown. But they do have a recent history of signing an All-Pro Seahawks defensive back who is 29, coming off a significant injury and doesn’t have warm feelings for the only NFL employer he’s ever had.

Yes, all the above described cornerback Richard Sherman when he signed with the 49ers in March. At the time, head coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged the 49ers were able to land Sherman partly because he was motivated to stay in the NFC West, where he could face the Seahawks twice a season.

“That’s definitely an added bonus,” Shanahan said, “and it helped our situation.”

Sherman was feeling vengeful because the Seahawks didn’t deem him worthy of his hefty salary and released him while he was recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.

Thomas might make Sherman’s anti-Seahawks feelings appear tame. The last time he was seen in uniform, Thomas was flipping off the Seattle’s sideline in September while being carted off the field in Arizona with a broken leg.

Prior to his injury, Thomas had held out in hopes of receiving an extension entering the final year of his contract. He eventually reported, played in four games and extended his right middle finger when his worst fears were realized: he’d been seriously injured while playing for an organization that, in his mind, didn’t fully appreciate him.

Thomas had a fractious relationship with the Seahawks even before his holdout. And now it’s broken. He is technically still a member of the team, but no one expects the six-time Pro Bowl selection to re-sign when he becomes a free agent in March.

On Jan. 8, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll failed to mention Thomas — a future Hall of Fame candidate — when ticking off Seattle’s scheduled free agents. When asked if he’d spoken with Thomas, Carroll said “not recently.”

“We’ll see what happens,” Carroll said. “Yeah, Earl is a great player. I don’t know what that means for his contract and all that stuff.”

It means Thomas will land elsewhere. And it was clear last month that Sherman, who has termed Thomas a “brother,” will give Thomas his best recruiting pitch.

“Would I love to play with Earl Thomas III? I would love to,” Sherman said. “I would love to have him back in the locker room. But I’m sure he’ll have a plethora of opportunities. And I’m sure we’re going to throw our hat in the ring.”

Sherman’s sales pitch could be effective: He was one of the 49ers’ biggest cheerleaders — hailing the franchise’s direction and leadership — despite a 4-12 season.

With the 49ers, Thomas would remain in the same 4-3 defensive scheme in which he’s flourished. And, like Sherman, he’s familiar with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, a Seahawks assistant from 2011-2013.

Still, Thomas made it clear in Seattle that he wants a significant raise after he signed a six-year, $40 million extension ion 2014. Kansas City’s Eric Berry is the NFL’s highest-paid safety with an annual average salary of $13 million.

The 49ers are projected to have about $70 million in salary cap space.

“Money is the best recruiter — but I’ll do my two cents,” Sherman said. “I’ll go give the best recruiting pitch, and if they say, ‘Hey, we got $7 for you,’ it’s not going to matter. I could do the worst recruiting pitch and if they pay him like a top player … money talks.”

The 49ers have the money — and the need for a player such as Thomas.

Their current roster has free safety options that range from unproven (Adrian Colbert and D.J. Reed) to chronically unhealthy: Pending free agent Jimmie Ward has finished four of his first five seasons on injured reserve.

Unlike Brown, who is expected to be traded by the Steelers with three years left on his contract, Thomas can choose his next team.

Will it be the 49ers?

If recent history is any guide, it’s a real possibility.

Eric Branch is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: ebranch@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Eric_Branch

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/49ers/article/49ers-might-want-to-explore-options-with-13550645.php.

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