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The New England Patriots cut linebacker Adalius Thomas on Monday, and for most Patriot’s fans one word sums up his departure: finally. Or maybe one phrase: It’s about [insert expletive] time!
Monday’s releasing of Thomas came as little surprise to many, and ended a three-year tenure that can only be described as a marriage from hell. Things came to a boiling point between Thomas and the club when he publicly criticized head coach Bill Belichick during and after the 2009-2010 season.
The Patriots signed Thomas as a free-agent in 2007 thinking they were acquiring one of the league’s most talented young linebackers; to the extent that Thomas became the highest-priced free-agent pickup in team history after inking a five-year, $35 million contract.
It’s hard to fault the Patriots for signing Thomas to such a lucrative contract. The veteran linebacker’s production with the Baltimore Ravens from 2001-2006 gave little indication that he would turn into one of, if not the biggest personnel mistake in Bill Belichick’s 11-year stint in Foxboro.
In six seasons with the Ravens, Thomas recorded 38.5 sacks, including a career-high 11.0 in 2006, just prior to becoming a free-agent. He was also responsible for 13 forced fumbles, and six interceptions. Those are impressive numbers for a pass-rushing linebacker by anyone’s standards.
Thomas’s poor production and bad attitude combined to earn him a one-way ticket out of New England. But, a closer look at the dysfunctional relationship between Thomas and the Patriots reveals that perhaps both sides are to blame.
In Baltimore, Thomas excelled under defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. Ryan employed a 3-4 scheme in which the three down-lineman were responsible for taking on double-teams, the inside linebackers were responsible for either plugging running lanes or covering tight ends/running backs, and the outside linebackers (including Thomas), were unleashed on the quarterback.
Allowed to roam free and run downhill at the opposing quarterbacks opposite Terrell Suggs, Thomas peaked under the Raven’s defensive system from 2004-2006, racking up 28.o sacks and 8 forced fumbles.
In New England, Thomas wasn’t used on the outside, nor was he allowed much room to freelance. Instead, he was expected to perform as a gap-filler, and a run-stopper, as well as a pass rusher, something he simply couldn’t handle.
He had his best year with the Patriots in 2007, recording 6.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles on the infamous team that finished 18-1, and lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl (a game in which he had 2.0 sacks). Over the next two seasons, Thomas’s production fell, as Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau, and Roosevelt Colvin began to fade, and were eventually replaced with a whole new, much less experienced cast of characters. Without other talented linebackers around him, Thomas was less effective, and he grew more and more frustrated by the fact that Belichick refused to adjust his defensive scheme to suit his needs.
In early December of 2009, Belichick sent Thomas home for being late to a team meeting, even though Thomas called ahead and notified the team he would be late due to bad weather. Upset and confused, Thomas wasn’t afraid to express how he felt about Belichick’s disciplinary action.
“There’s a lot of things that go on that you’re dumbfounded by,” Thomas said. “I just roll with the punches.”
When asked if he thought Belichick sent him home to motivate him, Thomas replied:
“Motivation is for kindergartners. I’m not a kindergartner,” he said. “Sending somebody home, that’s like, ‘Oh, you’re expelled,’ and come back and make good grades. Get that [expletive] out of here. That’s ridiculous.”
Consequently, Thomas was benched for the next week’s game against the Carolina Panthers, and he spoke out again following the season in early February, all but assuring his exit from Foxboro saying:
“I want to come somewhere where I’m wanted, where I’m going to have fun.”
Belichick also benched Thomas in Week 6 versus the Tennessee Titans for performance-related reasons.
After failing to trade Thomas during the draft, the Patriots were forced to cut him and his $4.9 million base-salary. However, the Patriots drafted multiple linebackers to fill the void, taking Florida Gators defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham with the 53rd pick, who they intend on converting into a linebacker; Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes with the 63rd pick; and two defensive lineman in the seventh round.
The Patriots plan on developing Cunningham (6 ft. 3, 252 lbs.) into the pass-rusher they’ve been searching for. Look for him to supplant Gary Guyton on the outside at some point during this season. Spikes is smaller than Cunningham, and will be used as an inside linebacker alongside Jerod Mayo.
Belichick will rely heavily on Tully Banta-Cain to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well. The eight-year veteran is coming off the best season of his career (9.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles).
I don’t expect the rookie linebackers to have an immediate impact, which means Mayo and Banta-Cain will have a lot of weight on their shoulders; but the Patriots now have a very young, and very talented group of linebackers that could become a forced to be reckoned with over the next few years.
Tags: Adalius Thomas, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Florida Gators, Gary Guyton, Jerod Mayo, Junior Seau, Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Rex Ryan, Roosevelt Colvin, Tedy Bruschi, Terrell Suggs, Tully Banta-Cain