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End of the AD era is near

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  February 5, 2010 02:23 PM

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Adalius Thomas went on 98.5 The Sports Hub yesterday to plug his marinade, but it was clear that Thomas, who twice last season was a healthy scratch, had some issues with Patriots coach Bill Belichick that marinated all season.

Thomas served them up for mass consumption, further cementing the end of the AD era here by violating the team's most sacred rule -- what happens in Foxborough, stays in Foxborough.

Thomas revealed that when Belichick booted him from Gillette Stadium on Dec. 9 after the outspoken linebacker was late for an 8 a.m. team meeting due to snowy roads and snarled traffic that the language wasn't PG-13. Thomas intimated that Belichick used an f-word, and it wasn't Foxborough.

"He just came over and in a whatever way you want to call it it was, 'Get out.' He didn't ask anything. He just said, 'Get out.' That's not his quote words," Thomas said on the Felger & Massarotti show on 98.5. "I can't even say his quote words. That's what was said. I don't even understand that so..."

Like a charred steak, Thomas, the most expensive free agent in team history, and the Patriots are well done. The Patriots don't want Thomas, who signed a five-year, $35.04 million deal, including $20 million in bonuses, back for a fourth season, and he doesn't want to be back.

Not only does releasing him save the Patriots his $4.9 million base salary, but with the imminent uncapped year it spares them the $8.8 million cap hit -- as well as any further verbal hits. It's best for both sides to move on from this ugly mess, pronto. Let it be a lesson for both sides.

It's natural to want to single out a villain here, but the reality is that both Thomas and Belichick deserve blame for this debacle. Both Belichick and Thomas are intelligent, passionate, strong-willed, proud men who worked hard to establish themselves in the NFL. Both were too stubborn to reach out and communicate to the other before things deteriorated to the point of no return, and this dust-up only damages both men's reputations moving forward.

For Belichick and the Patriots, Thomas is a popular and respected figure in the NFL player fraternity. His problems here will echo throughout the league and could make it harder for the Patriots to bring in veteran free agents. That process is already going to be more difficult because the biggest draw the Patriots have is winning. If that's in question, Foxborough is a much less desirable location.

Thomas's time here serves as evidence that the veteran quick fix isn't always the right one. It's easier to win in the NFL with veteran players, but it's also tougher to get them to buy in. That's why you build through the draft and then spend to keep the players you mold.

For Thomas, his recalcitrant behavior is going to make it easy for people to slap him with the label of locker room malcontent and mutineer. That's a tough label to shed. Regardless of how justified he may or may not have been in speaking out and standing up for himself, he put his interests ahead of his team's to do so. The bottom line is that Belichick is his boss and deserves to be treated with the respect that comes along with that, and if a team is paying you $35 million they can use you however they want to or not at all.

Comments like this -- "How do you expect to make plays if you're standing over there by the coach?" -- don't help your cause.

It's pretty obvious that the disconnect between Thomas and Belichick came right off the bat. Coming off a career-high 11 sacks and a Pro Bowl season, Thomas  thought he was coming here to boost the Patriots' pass rush. The Patriots envisioned Thomas, who came from Baltimore with the reputation as a jack-of-all trades, as a Vrabel-like versatile piece in their defense and plugged him in at middle linebacker next to Tedy Bruschi.

The sides never bridged that perception gap, and the deal was doomed because of it.

During his time here it was obvious that Thomas, who led all NFL linebackers in sacks from 2004 to '06 with 28, was best suited to play outside linebacker. Playing there, he was the Patriots' best player in Super Bowl XLII with a pair of sacks. In 2008, he played outside linebacker and was tied for the team lead in sacks with five when he broke his right forearm and was lost for the season.

Still, Thomas said he was told his role would change for the 2009 season and the Patriots seemed to be content to go with Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess, who produced more garbage sacks than a Glad factory, as their pass rushers. That made Thomas a two-down player. Thomas finished the season with three sacks, but also wasn't effective rushing the passer when given the chance to do so.

Thomas was also forced to slide back inside for a few games when Jerod Mayo sprained his medial cruciate ligament in the first quarter of the season-opener against Buffalo.

In that game, Thomas had five tackles and a sack, but was flagged for a fourth-quarter roughing-the-passer penalty. He and Gary Guyton struggled to contain the Bills' screen game. None of that endeared him to Belichick.

It was a conversation Thomas and Belichick had about Thomas's play in that game that Thomas said during the Sports Hub interview made him realize there was a rift. It should have ended there with a clear-the-air session, instead it lingered and only got worse with Thomas being being told by linebackers coach Matt Patricia, not Belichick, that he wasn't playing against the Titans on Oct. 18 and of course Late Gate.

It's far too late to save this relationship. Thomas is cooked as a Patriot and in the end both sides ended up getting burned. 
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news


...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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