Adjusted on the fly
Stunned by trade, Thomas grew into role with Saints
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - David Thomas thought he had a secure, stable future when he woke up Sept. 5. He had been with the Patriots since 2006, and saw himself staying there for years. Months earlier, his wife had given birth to their second son, a brother for their 2-year-old.
That day, the news struck Thomas like a sucker punch. He learned the Patriots had traded him to the Saints. The next morning, he was on a flight bound for New Orleans, leaving his wife and children home in New England.
In the whirlwind that followed, Thomas never envisioned his year would end here, preparing for Super Bowl XLIV against the Indianapolis Colts. After a difficult transition, Thomas became a productive and versatile piece of the Saints’ prolific offense. Tomorrow, his trying season will end on a far sweeter note than it began.
“It’s definitely been a challenging year - the trade, the move, everything my family had to go through,’’ Thomas said. “But it’s been a lot of fun. I’m really excited to be here.’’
During his time in Patriots training camp, Thomas was competing with Ben Watson, Chris Baker, and Michael Matthews. He had seemingly secured a roster spot as the season neared.
Meanwhile, in Saints training camp, reliable reserve tight end Billy Miller tore his right Achilles’ tendon. Right away, Saints coach Sean Payton searched the league for a team they could match up with for a trade.
“We knew New England had a lot of depth at tight end,’’ Payton said. “We had made trades with them before. It was just a matter of trying to find out maybe if any of those players would be available. Fortunately, we were able to obtain David.’’
The Saints acquired Thomas for a seventh-round pick in 2011. Thomas found out he had been traded on a Saturday. He flew to New Orleans the next day, and he played in his first Saints game eight days later. He had to learn a new and complex offense while also arranging his family’s move. A moving company shipped his life halfway across the country while he tied loose ends.
As he practiced and unpacked, Thomas adjusted to his new city and team without his wife. For a month, he did not see his family.
“It’s just hard every day to be going home and not getting to see your wife and kids,’’ Thomas said. “They weren’t down here yet. That was really hard on me.’’
Still, as he learned the offense, Thomas began to find his niche. The Saints used him in some situations as a fullback, something he rarely did with the Patriots. He spelled Jeremy Shockey and gave the Saints another weapon. The price for Thomas seemed low to his new teammates.
“I was very surprised at that,’’ Shockey said. “Sometimes, people just need a shot, and he got his shot on this team. He’s a great player. He’s a great teammate. You won’t meet too many David Thomases.’’
Thomas became a consistent receiver, catching 35 passes for 356 yards. He became most valuable when Shockey suffered an ankle injury and had his playing time limited in the postseason. In the NFC Championship game, Thomas caught three passes for 32 yards and drew a crucial pass interference call in overtime on the drive that sent the Saints to the Super Bowl.
“He’s a guy that plays in a lot of different spots,’’ Payton said. “He’s versatile. He’s smart. You know exactly what you’re getting. Sometimes, you’ve got to be careful not to give him too many snaps. With Jeremy’s health a few weeks ago, [Thomas] was playing more than maybe you would like. But he’s certainly been an important part of what we’re doing offensively.’’
Thomas holds no hard feelings toward the Patriots. He keeps in touch with several former teammates, such as Watson, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and punter Chris Hanson.
“New England was a great organization,’’ Thomas said. “Lot of great coaches, lot of great players. I really appreciate all they did for me. It was disappointing that it didn’t work out. But just put that behind you and be excited for the opportunity ahead.’’
Thomas said he is still learning about the Saints’ offense. He never considered his year would end like it has, but he hasn’t let that keep him from appreciating it.
“I know,’’ Thomas said, “everything happens for a reason.’’