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Thomas, Patriots both stand to lose

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  April 26, 2010 02:14 PM

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300adalius.jpgAdalius Thomas had a saying that he got from his father, the good Rev. Adonis Thomas, while growing up in rural Alabama, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."

It is because he stood up for himself that the curtain has finally fallen on his career as a New England Patriot. The inevitable happened earlier today when the team, following a season filled with strained relations and an incommunicado offseason, finally granted Thomas a divorce from a marriage that had become both dysfunctional and harmful to both sides.

No one wins in this separation. Thomas leaves New England with the patina of both a malcontent and a failed free agent acquisition, and the Patriots are still perilously thin at outside linebacker -- Tully Banta-Cain and a bunch of questions marks -- after they saw a $35 million investment go belly up.

Coach Bill Belichick botched his relationship with Thomas by not bridging the communication gap, but let's be clear, Thomas is not without either blame or responsibility in this situation.

He could have handled being a healthy scratch against Tennessee better, even if he was perturbed the news was delivered to him by linebackers coach Matt Patricia at the team hotel on game day. The same goes for being sent home as part of Lategate, even if Thomas was angered that he had called the team ahead on that snowy morning to let them know he'd be late and was only nine minutes tardy.

Airing a dispute and unveiling the fraying of the lines of communication with his coach in public was a no-win from the start for Thomas, even if he was standing up for himself. This is not exactly a market for honest, outspoken athletes who carry the perception of underperformance, and it's never a good idea to feud with your boss, especially if it's the latter-day Lombardi and one of the most successful coaches in the NFL.

That's why to most Patriots fans what Thomas's tenure stood for was a player whose best defense was played in interviews and not on the field.

They don't look at how Thomas, who led all NFL linebackers in sacks from 2004 to 2006 with 28, was utilized or miscast by the Patriots or focus on the fact he was coming back this season from a broken right forearm he suffered in 2008, when at the time he was tied for the team lead in sacks with five.

They've completely forgotten about Super Bowl XLII, when Thomas played his best game in the biggest game of the almost perfect '07 season, recording five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, or that jaw-dropping 65-yard interception return he had against the Chargers the week after Spygate broke.

Thomas, who came here in 2007 with the promise of boosting an aging linebacker corps with a versatile impact player, instead became the poster boy for a Patriots' locker room in rebellion and the decline of a dynasty.

With his ability to play multiple positions -- Thomas once lined up opposite Chad Johnson/Ochocinco for the Ravens -- Thomas was supposed to be the perfect Patriots player, but his temperament was never suited for Fort Foxborough and his playing style definitely was not suited to being a 3-4 linebacker in Belichick's system.

The problem is that neither Thomas nor Belichick did their homework before getting hitched. It was an ill-conceived union of player and coach from the start. Thomas famously referenced "The Jetsons" when asked about being late on that wintry December day. He was on to something because Belichick desires players who resemble the Jetsons' maid, Rosie -- robots who respond to his every command.

Thomas had been in the league long enough and been on successful teams long enough, including a Super Bowl winner as a rookie, to know that the Patriot Way wasn't the only way to win in the NFL. That was a big problem.

Thomas came from Baltimore, where talking a good game was just as much a part of the culture of the team as playing one. The swashbuckling, swaggering, showboating Baltimore teams Thomas played on with linebackers Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and cornerback Deion Sanders were a perfect fit for his gregarious and candid personality.

The players ran that team and it took on their personality.

That does not happen in Fort Foxborough, where it's Belichick's Way or the highway, and individuality is repressed for the greater good of the team.

Looking back, it should have been telling that Thomas, who had the nickname "the coordinator" in Baltimore for his mastery of the Ravens' scheme, didn't start in the very game many thought the team had acquired him for. When the Patriots played Indianapolis in 2007, Belichick played Rodney Harrison at linebacker in the big nickel defense as Thomas was relegated to a reserve role.

For all of those clamoring for the Patriots to have made a bigger splash this offseason by adding players outside of their locker room, look at Thomas, the most expensive free agent acquisition in team history (five years, $35.04 million, $20 million in bonuses and guarantees) and a player the team is still paying for, even if its monetary obligation ended today.

Thomas seemed to be a sure thing for Belichick and the Patriots and vice versa. Thomas was coming off a Pro Bowl season where he was coached by Belichick in the Pro Bowl, and was coming to a team that coveted versatility and had been on the verge of a Super Bowl.

Three years later, both sides are standing up for what they believe in and both have taken a fall. 
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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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