After months of anticipation, the Patriots finally released Thomas on Monday morning, according to a report. Thomas had long since fallen out of favor with head coach Bill Belichick, and the linebacker’s performance in 2009 was uninspired and warranted two games on the bench.
When asked in February about the tension between Thomas and Belichick, a Patriots source told NESN.com, “Yeah, everybody saw that. That was no secret.”
Thomas has thrown some passive-aggressive jabs at Belichick through the media — at least twice last season from the Pats’ locker room, and then again during separate interviews with 98.5 The Sports Hub and the Boston Globe — stoking a fire he obviously didn’t want to simmer.
It wasn’t solely Thomas’ fault, but his constant whining will leave him remembered as the bad guy. Plus, Belichick and the Patriots won three Super Bowls before Thomas arrived — as Thomas’ former Ravens teammate, Ray Lewis, pointed out in 2007 — so the head coach will usually earn the benefit of the doubt in such occasions.
Still, it just wasn’t the right fit. Thomas signed a $35 million, five-year contract prior to the 2007 season — the most money the Patriots have ever dished out to a free agent — and he played well at the start of his career in New England. He had a 17-game stretch from 2007-08 when he recorded 13 sacks, including his masterful two-sack performance in the Super Bowl.
But Thomas had only registered three sacks since that point. In that most recent stretch, he played in 17 games, missed seven due to injury and was benched twice. While Thomas has showed he can be a very strong pass rusher, he couldn’t excel with the other responsibilities Belichick levied to his outside linebackers. Credit Belichick with some blame in that regard, too, because he wasn’t always putting Thomas in a position to succeed.
When Thomas stopped playing at a high level on the field, he became testier behind the scenes, and it sounds like he was able to further act out his displeasure after the Patriots lost leaders Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour.
This wasn’t Thomas’ first temperamental issue, either. After leaving the Ravens, he got into a war of words with Lewis, the longtime Baltimore leader who called Thomas a “coward” and noted the Ravens needed to adjust their schemes to coddle Thomas. Sound familiar?
This also won’t be the last of the Thomas saga. Look for him to reunite with one of his former Ravens defensive coordinators — either Jets head coach Rex Ryan or Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan — and remain in the AFC East. Thomas will fire off a few more verbal jabs at his former coach, like he did with Brian Billick after leaving Baltimore, and the story will keep its legs.
Thomas has done it at each of his two NFL stops. Don’t expect this 32-year-old man to grow up anytime soon.