By Tyler Springs
The last time the Baltimore Ravens met the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs, Adalius Thomas was wearing a purple jersey.
That was the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoffs. This is now.
Almost three years removed from agreeing to a $35 million contract with the New England Patriots in the spring of 2007, Thomas has not been anything close to the All-Pro caliber player that Bill Belichick thought he had acquired.
In the three seasons he started for the Ravens' defense, Thomas averaged nearly 80 tackles and over 9 sacks each season, including a Pro-Bowl campaign in 2006 and a league-leading 3 non-offensive touchdowns in 2005. Thomas saw time at linebacker, cornerback, defensive end and special teams, maximizing the rare speed and strength he possessed in his 6'2", 270-pound frame. He was a smart player that grew to be a fan favorite in Baltimore, a face of Rex Ryan's vaunted defensive unit.
When he signed with the Patriots on March 3rd following the 2006 season, the Ravens were sad to let him go, knowing they had lost a good player to higher pay. Since that time, however, the phrase "I wish we had Adalius back" has not been common refrain. Role players and stars alike, including Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, Trevor Pryce, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Terrell Suggs, have taken over different parts of Thomas' former duties and have played well in those areas.
Thomas, on the other hand, has suffered in the painfully cold New England weather and similarly frigid playing environment that is Bill Belichick's locker room. After being elected a defensive captain at the start of the season, Thomas has been frozen out twice, deactivated from the 45-man game roster against Tennessee and Carolina despite being healthy. The second time was the result of being one of four players late to an 8AM meeting on a morning when traffic was congested due to a morning snowfall.
Said Thomas: "Sending somebody home, that’s like, ‘You’re expelled until you come back and make good grades.’ Get that [expletive] out of here. It’s ridiculous."
In his three years with the Patriots, Thomas' numbers have been significantly less than billed.
He hasn't had an interception or scored a touchdown since 2007, and his sack total in that time has been 14.5, barely half of his production level in Baltimore. Much of Thomas' decreased stat totals may have had to do with his progressively diminishing playing time (he played just over 50% of New England's defensive snaps this season), but that's also a chicken-or-egg rationale that might suggest he wasn't playing as well in the first place.
Thomas will probably not survive the offseason in New England (even if he wants to) unless a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Under the present salary cap terms, the Patriots would owe Thomas a figure north of $4 million for the next two seasons if they were to release him at this time. At 32, he still has a few good years left in the tank and could be an attractive free agent pickup (if he is released) for teams looking to shore up their pass rush, but his disgruntled public behavior and recent under-performance won't help him in that regard.
So much for the grass being greener in New England.
Sources: Boston Globe, ESPN