It’s interesting that 30 months later, all five players in that picture are gone. Three retired, and two others (Thomas, Mike Vrabel) fell out of favor and were jettisoned.
So how did things go so terribly wrong with Thomas? Communication might be the buzzword here. Thomas felt that there wasn’t enough of it, and what there was wasn’t especially clear, and so a divide grew between he and the coaches.
The real dagger might have come not with the much puclicized LateGate incident, but his benching for the Titans game. That one confused Thomas, and the lack of communication on the subject made it worse from the player’s perspective, and so the train started going down the tracks of discontentment. In the end, you had two strong-willed sides with neither giving ground.
“Anybody that knows me personally knows that I’m not a bad person. I haven’t had a problem in the 10 years I’ve been in the league; I haven’t had a run-in with any coach. That’s not me,” Thomas told our own Shalise Manza Young two weeks ago. “Am I a ‘yes’ person? That’s not me. I respect the coaches and I respect their position. If you have something that you want me doing, that’s fine. But coaches are going to do what’s best for the organization, or for them. At some point you have to look out for you, so the only person that’s going to do that is you.
“I’m not bitter. At all. But I guess it comes across … I don’t think anything I said is untrue, and if it’s not untrue, then why is there a problem?”
The truth is that while the Patriots and Ravens have both been very successful, the makeup of the teams is very, very different. If the Ravens are Jimmy Johnson’s swaggering Miami Hurricanes, then the Patriots are Tom Osborne’s buttoned-down Nebraska Cornhuskers.
And so going from one way to the other can be difficult.
This whole affair is also further proof of this: Locker-room chemistry is, in large part, controlled by winning and losing. When the Patriots were kicking everybody’s tail in 2007, Thomas was fine. When they were fighting through 2009, he wasn’t.
In the end, the Patriots and Thomas didn’t seem to fit each other, personality-wise, and winning simply hid that early on.
The bigger issue, of course, for the team is its own mis-evaluation of the player Thomas was, even with warning signs out there, and also misfiring on the kind of fit he was for their particular belief system.
It’s over now, and there’s a chance Thomas will have the opportunity to make them pay by staying in the division. Jason Taylor did sign with the Jets, but even so, there might be a spot there for him with Vernon Gholston being moved to end. The Dolphins are an obvious landing place, with Mike Nolan there as defensive coordinator (he made a serious run at Thomas as 49ers coach back in 2007), and the team having a need for a veteran presence at the position. The Niners and Bengals also have connections to Thomas.
But even considering all that, this was a move that had to be made. It was time to move on.
The player saw things one way, the team saw things another, and that divide was simply never going to be reconciled.