It seemed like the start of a great marriage when Bill Belichick decided to give Thomas $20 million in guaranteed money after coaching him in the Pro Bowl. But Thomas never fit in with the Patriots the way he did with the Ravens, and Belichick did not build his scheme around Thomas’ unusual talents as effectively as Rex Ryan had in Baltimore.
In his first season in New England, Thomas mostly rotated at inside linebacker until an injury to another player forced him to play outside linebacker late in the season. Thomas is not an inside ’backer who relishes taking on blocks and doing dirty work, and it showed.
In his second season as a Patriot, he played outside and was doing okay until an arm injury ended his season.
And last year, he started to play like the 32-year-old that he was. “The tape wasn’t good,” one team’s personnel director said. What’s more, he appeared to have fallen out of favor with Belichick. Thomas even was publicly critical of his coach’s approach.
This wasn’t Baltimore, where Brian Billick had been accommodating to players’ wishes and Ray Lewis covered up for teammates’ mistakes. And Thomas wasn’t the same player, either.
Now, Thomas is looking for a job and not finding much interest. He still has something left and probably could help a team as a pass-rush specialist. Thomas would appear to be a good fit with the Jets, where Ryan could use him the way he used to. There also has been some speculation that he could end up in Seattle.
Thomas is one of a number of big name players still job hunting. Here is a look at some of the others.
Flozell Adams: After being released by the Cowboys, Adams probably will have to lower his expectations and go somewhere as a third tackle. It’s possible Adams won’t be picked up until another offensive tackle is injured and needs to be replaced.
Marc Bulger: His options dried up on draft day, when the Raiders traded for Jason Campbell and the Panthers chose Jimmy Clausen, Armanti Edwards and Tony Pike. Now it looks like Bulger will have to settle for a team that can’t offer him the chance to compete for a starting job. A good place for him might be Chicago, where he would be reunited with Mike Martz.
Keith Bulluck: He’s been in a holding pattern because he is coming off an ACL injury, but Bulluck could be a sought-after player come training camp if he is healthy. Among the teams that could be matches for him are the Lions and Broncos. The Titans have not completely ruled him out yet, either.
Leonard Little: He always has been a defensive end in a four-man front, but Little could pick up with a team that plays a 3-4. Among the 3-4 teams who could use an outside linebacker are the Packers and Patriots. The Rams also have not closed the door on Little.
Kevin Mawae: Even though Mawae is coming off his eighth Pro Bowl, he has not received much interest. His age — 39 — definitely is working against him. And his title — NFLPA president — also might be. Mawae still could return to the Titans as a backup, but if a team loses its starting center early in camp Mawae would be an ideal replacement.
Adewale Ogunleye: He might not be all he once was, but Ogunleye still can rush the passer and take advantage of inferior blocking. If a team like the Panthers decides it needs more up front, Ogunleye would make sense.
Terrell Owens: At this point in his career, T.O. would be better for selling tickets than scoring touchdowns. But there aren’t many teams looking for aging wide receivers with histories of stirring up trouble. He really would be the perfect Raider or Redskin, but so far those teams have not indicated much interest.
JaMarcus Russell: Once the Raiders give up on you, there aren’t many teams left to turn to that don’t play in the AFL, UFL or CFL. Where would Russell make sense? You could picture him as a reclamation project for Sean Payton in New Orleans, which is close to where Russell grew up and played college ball. Maybe Jacksonville could use him as a fallback in case David Garrard doesn’t step up. Cincinnati has been speculated as a potential interested team. The Chiefs could really stick it to the Raiders if they found a way to salvage Russell’s career.
Brian Westbrook: If a team is comfortable with Westbrook’s medical file, he is an attractive commodity. Already, three teams — the Rams, Redskins and Broncos — have visited with the running back. Westbrook could be setting his price tag on the high side.
CSN: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has been contacted by police investigating a possible homicide in North Attleboro, Mass. Hernandez is not believed to be a suspect but a rental car in his name is connected to the death.
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