Adding Thomas could help Jets, also tweak Pats
With leading sack man Calvin Pace sidelined for about six weeks by a broken right foot, the New York Jets are at least temporarily shy a linebacker, and coach Rex Ryan apparently has reached out to free agent Adalius Thomas to potentially fill the void.
Good move, since the 10-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowl performer not only is the best linebacker available among unemployed free agents, but also just might be the best out-of-work player, period.
There is little doubt Ryan's reported interest in Thomas is well-grounded: The Jets need a linebacker, Thomas has played before for Ryan, in Baltimore, and his learning curve in the New York defense would be short. Plus, the veteran 'backer can play both inside and outside in the 3-4 scheme.
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Just as pragmatic, in the era of the salary cap and with New York already pressed tight against the spending limit, is the Jets' purported preference that Thomas delay his signing until after the first regular-season game. Such timing would keep Thomas' base salary for 2010, a minimum of $860,000, from being fully guaranteed, a right he possesses as a vested veteran.
But the dilatory tack in signing Thomas could be fueled by a desire that he get in shape first and that the Jets can probably get through the Sept. 13 opener against Baltimore with Jason Taylor or some assortment of reserves filling in at Pace's spot. The timing of any possible contract signing aside and an inarguable need for Thomas notwithstanding, there is a potential subplot to Ryan's interest in him.
Again, there is little doubt of the snug fit here or of the legitimacy of a possible signing. But this non-football element should not be ignored: If the Jets do add Thomas, Ryan will have a reclamation project of a player on whom the hated New England Patriots, and more specifically Bill Belichick, whiffed.
Certainly that subplot is not uppermost in Ryan's mind; that facet is ancillary and clearly superfluous, but it's surely intriguing.
The Jets and their coach, as the past year has demonstrated, are incredibly preoccupied by the Patriots. And by the success Belichick and his team have enjoyed in becoming a model franchise envied by many clubs in the league. Imagine the fun Ryan could have, not to mention the instant talking points, if he plucks Thomas from the free-agent rubble and somehow salvages a career seemingly in tatters.
The Pats dumped Thomas onto the scrap heap this spring, and he represents one of the few failures in recent New England history. In 2007, the Patriots signed Thomas as an unrestricted free agent, landing him with a five-year, $35.04 million contract.
Three years into the deal and about $24 million richer, he was released.
Mostly an "edge" defender in Baltimore -- where he started for five seasons after serving a two-year apprenticeship on special teams -- Thomas notched 188 tackles, 28 sacks and four interceptions in his last three years in a Ravens uniform. Playing mostly inside linebacker for New England, he registered just 108 tackles, 14.5 sacks and one interception during his three-year tenure.
Thomas, 33, carved out a spot in Belichick's doghouse -- never quite recovering from having been late to an early-season activity in 2009 -- and became in New England the preeminent symbol of money wasted and talent squandered. And from a purely football standpoint, there was a belief Thomas was in decline.
He has a lot to prove after '09, and Thomas clearly feels he can still play, so he will almost certainly be a motivated player if the Jets add him. And if they resurrect his career, he could help them win a few games.
And win Ryan some bragging points, too, over his AFC East archrival.