Adalius Thomas played in two Pro Bowls as a star with the Baltimore Ravens. Then he signed the biggest contract the New England Patriots ever gave an unrestricted free agent.
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The investment seemed sound when the linebacker had two solid seasons and was poised to play a bigger role this year after the Patriots lost two veteran linebackers — Mike Vrabel in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs and Tedy Bruschi to retirement.
But on Wednesday, Thomas faced the possibility of being benched by coach Bill Belichick for the second straight game even though he’s healthy.
Does he expect to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London?
“Ask Bill,” Thomas said.
Does he have something to prove to the coaching staff?
“Ask Bill,” he said.
Why was he benched in the first place?
“Ask Bill,” he said. “He has all the answers.”
Bill wasn’t saying — in the usual way.
“As we always do,” Belichick said, “we’ll activate the players that we feel give us the best chance to win this game, whoever those players are.”
Thomas started the first five games this year but had just 12 tackles. His lone sack came in the opener.
“I think I can play better,” he said.
In a flat voice, Thomas said that he’s “fine” three days after being surprised by the move. He said the team is more important than any individual.
“I come to work,” he said. “I do what I’m asked to do and whatever decision that Bill makes I respect that from a player’s standpoint to a coach. Whether I agree with it or not is something totally different. It’s not about me. It’s about the Patriots vs. Tampa right now. It’s not about me.”
If Thomas is inactive again, at least he won’t be caught off guard. He said he was “shocked” when he was told just before the 59-0 win over the Tennessee Titans that he would be inactive.
So he went home and watched the game on television.
“It was different,” Thomas said. “I was excited for the guys. They went out there flying around. Any time you have a win it’s like I said, it’s bigger than me. We’re moving on to Tampa and well take it as it goes.”
He said he hasn’t talked to Belichick since being inactive, then tried to change the subject when he was asked if he felt he should do that.
“Could we talk about Tampa?” Thomas said. “It’s not about me. You all keep wanting to make this about me. It’s bigger than me. It’s about us playing Tampa, our team versus their team. And so it’s not about me and Bill. We’re fine. It seems like you all have a bigger problem with it than I do. So I’m fine, I’m fine.”
After spending his first seven NFL seasons with the Ravens, Thomas signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Patriots in March 2007. In his first season with New England, he had 6 1/2 sacks in the regular season and two sacks and a forced fumble in a 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. Last year, he led the Patriots with five sacks before his season ended when he broke his left arm in the ninth game.
Last Sunday, he was a healthy scratch for the first time since his rookie season in 2000. Derrick Burgess started at outside linebacker in his place and Rob Ninkovich, signed as a veteran free agent on Aug. 9, got extra playing time. His one-year contract is worth $445,000.
Will Ninkovich continue to have a bigger role?
“Whatever they ask me to do I’m going to do my best and just do my role,” Ninkovich said, “do my part as best that I can.”
Decisions on which 45 players to activate usually aren’t finalized until the day of the game. Thomas participated fully in Wednesday’s practice, trying to show Belichick he belongs on the field every game.
And what must he do to convince his coach?
“Ask Bill,” Thomas said.
Running back Sammy Morris did not practice Wednesday after hurting his left knee against Tennessee. Also missing practice were running back Fred Taylor (ankle), wide receiver Julian Edelman (forearm), tackle Matt Light (knee), and cornerback Darius Butler (ankle). … Ninkovich was with the Miami Dolphins in 2007 when they played the first NFL game outside North America against the New York Giants at London’s Wembley Stadium, site of Sunday’s game. “It was really wet,” he said. “It’s a soccer field so it’s a clay surface and it’s sparse grass. Obviously, the soccer ball will roll faster” with less grass.