Thomas to talk to 49ers, Pats
Free-agent linebacker will likely get huge payday
Posted: Friday March 2, 2007 10:55AM; Updated: Friday March 2, 2007 1:27PM
The multi-team field for the Adalius Thomas sweepstakes in free agency has quickly focused on two leading contenders: San Francisco and New England.
Both the Patriots and 49ers have made contact with the All-Pro Baltimore linebacker, who has made plans to visit both clubs, possibly starting as early as Saturday. Thomas, who finished 2006 with a career-best 11 sacks and made the Pro Bowl team for the first time, is considered the most attractive prospect in this year's free-agent class. In addition, the New York Jets are a third team that has expressed strong interest in Thomas and is determined to stay competitive in the bidding for his services, a league source said.
San Francisco has a couple significant advantages in its pursuit of Thomas: The 49ers have the league's biggest salary cap surplus, at an estimated $35 million to $40 million; and head coach Mike Nolan was once Thomas' defensive coordinator in Baltimore.
While New England may not choose to match a San Francisco offer that is expected to top $8 million per season, the Patriots are wooing Thomas by touting the opportunity for him to win a Super Bowl ring with them, and his familiarity with their 3-4 defensive formation.
Like ex-Chicago outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin did during the 2003 free agency season, Thomas may be willing to sign in New England for less than top dollar in the current market. The Patriots' primary need this offseason is for linebacking help, and Thomas would represent landing the biggest upgrade available.
With Thomas and Colvin playing on the outside, the Patriots would be able to shift versatile veteran Mike Vrabel back to an inside linebacker slot on a fulltime basis. The Patriots aren't sure yet whether inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi will return for a 12th season or retire, and 17-year veteran linebacker Junior Seau is a free agent after suffering a season-ending broken right forearm in late November.
Under head coach Bill Belichick and VP of player personnel Scott Pioli, the Patriots have built a roster that prizes versatility, and Thomas is perhaps the most versatile player in the NFL. With Baltimore, Thomas was moved all over the field on defense, lining up at various times at inside and outside linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle, and even being used in pass coverage at safety and cornerback.
In other free agency news, the Giants are known to be pursuing Colts running back Dominic Rhodes as an option in their backfield alongside Brandon Jacobs. Rhodes, who the Colts are not expected to re-sign, had a successful 2006 season playing in tandem with Indianapolis rookie running back Joseph Addai. With the retirement of lead back Tiki Barber, the Giants are shopping for a veteran who can share time with Jacobs and allow them to go to the two-back approach that has become so popular in the NFL.
Rhodes ran for a game-high 113 yards in the Colts' Super Bowl win over the Bears, but later in February was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Indianapolis, a development that put his already slim chances of returning to the Colts in even more jeopardy.