Why is Thomas still a Patriot? (Updated)

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So it seemed at season’s end that Adalius Thomas’ departure from Foxborough was an inevitability. Communication has been non-existent, and continues to be, and Thomas’ comments at the Super Bowl made the disconnect seem as deep as the Atlantic.

And … nothing. Thomas is still a Patriot.

Why? Well, Thomas’ deal doesn’t include the kind of roster bonus in 2010 that often force these kinds of divorces. In fact, the structure of that contract has actually kept the two sides together. For now.

Thomas collected a $12 million signing bonus in 2007 and an $8 million option bonus in 2008. For cap purposes, those payouts were prorated over the five and four years, respectively, that remained on the deal when the checks were cut. So there’s $4.8 million in signing bonus money and $4 million in option bonus money that haven’t yet been accounted for against the salary cap.

Including a workout bonus, Thomas’ cap charge for 2009 was just over $6.4 million. If he’s cut before the end of the league year, then $8.8 million in dead money gets accelerated on to the team’s 2009 cap, and the Patriots lack the wiggle room underneath the limit to make that move allowable. So they have to keep him until the 2010 league year kicks off on March 5.

Will they cut him then? There’s some risk involved. The Jets are obviously lurkers in this scenario, moreso when you consider the relationship Thomas has with head coach Rex Ryan from his Baltimore days. Part of Thomas’ problem with the Patriots this year was the way in which he was deployed, which would certainly figure to be less of a problem if he were reunited with Ryan. In fact, if you go back to an ESPN The Magazine piece on Thomas from 2006, it’s not hard to see how Ryan looks at Thomas.

“To me, the guy’s like Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks,” Ryan told David Fleming back then. “LT was a great pass-rusher, very fast,
athletic and explosive. On the other side was Banks, who did all the
dirty work, taking on blocks, stuffing the run, reading plays. Adalius
is a combination of the two. For a long time, we just didn’t have the
guts as coaches to put a plan in motion that let him do it all. …


“In 10 years, when this kind of physically versatile player is a
full-blown phenomenon, people will be wondering who started the whole
trend. And you’ll be able to point back to this moment and say, ‘Hey, I
know who it was’.”

Yeah … So Ryan likes him quite a bit.

By whacking Thomas quickly, the Patriots might simply be giving him passage to New York, since the Jets could plan the move around the departure of their free agents.

(Update, 4:58 p.m.: Thanks to reader Mike Rodak, who pointed me to a stipulation in the CBA that says the “Final Eight Rule” doesn’t apply to free agents who were under contract on the final day of the 2009 league year … So since the Patriots have to keep Thomas through the end of the league year, signing him would be an exempted for either the Jets or Ravens here. Seems like you learn something new about all this stuff every day.)

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If New England delays it, then the Jets could wind up being handcuffed by the “Final Eight Plan“, which has more stringent rules for conference finalists like New York. The Jets, quite simply, might not be able to wait for Thomas to come free, or base a significant offseason dealing around that kind of variable. This dynamic could also affect a possible return to Baltimore — also a “Final Eight” team — for Thomas.

Of course, ideally, the Patriots could trade Thomas off and get something in return, while dictating his destination. Unfortunately for New England, the perception he’s on the outs isn’t exactly a secret, and it’s usually pretty tough to deal guys that other teams know are on the chopping block.

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