Free Agent Focus: Can They Sign Him?

The Cardinals don't need him just because everyone wants him, they need him because he will significantly improve their defense. Cap space is one thing. Helping the team is something else entirely.

Ever since the list of unrestricted free agents became public knowledge, Adalius Thomas turned into a hot commodity.  When the Ravens failed to franchise him on February 22nd at the deadline, rumors began to spread and he turned into the next savior for every club in need of an impact player on defense.

Is he worth it just because a number of other NFL teams want him?  Or is he worth it because he's... worth it?  Pros and cons listed below.

Pros:

He's a Pro Bowl player with an outstanding reputation.  That's something that Arizona is pretty lean on defensively.

As one of the key players of an outstanding defense in Baltimore, he was instrumental in their success last season (and for several seasons before that, when he wasn't a hot free agent).

He was a member of the 2000 championship squad.  He's played in numerous big game and come through with big plays.

In a defense that likes to bring pressure from all angles and blitz copiously, he has been a very versatile cog in the mighty Ravens machine.  He has lined up at defensive end, linebacker, and even safety.  Imagine a defense, especially on third down, that includes Thomas, Adrian Wilson (who has himself lined up all over the field), Karlos Dansby (arguably Arizona's best pass rusher), and Calvin Pace (who has played both defensive end and linebacker).  Add to that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's penchant for drawing up exotic schemes, and the Cardinals could do a lot of damage on defense.

He had 11 sacks last year and authored a number of big plays.  How many Cardinals defenders can you say that about?

Three words: Best athlete available.  Arizona needs a linebacker and he more than fits the bill.

Cons:

There's no way around this: He's 29 and has a lot of miles on the old tires.  While he's by no means a fossil, the idea of offering a long term contract to someone whose production may decline precipitously in the next three years is very unsettling.

On the subject of long term contracts, Thomas will demand top dollar and has plenty of suitors.  The available cap space of $32 million that the Cardinals possess will not buy as much in today's market (where a number of teams are $20 million or more under the cap) as it would have in previous seasons.  Do the Cardinals want to make that kind of investment and tie future funds up for a 29 year-old linebacker that had one remarkable season?

He has never scored a touchdown in his NFL career.  In that defense, you would assume that he'd score at least two in seven seasons.

The other thing that there's no way around: With so many interested teams, no one would fault the Cardinals if he succeeds with another team (after all, who's to say that they had a legitimate shot at signing him).  Conversely, they'd dodge a hefty bullet if he fails with a new team.

Overall:

Risk vs. reward, age vs. experience, Pro Bowl vs. long term financial commitment. 

I have to say that the thought of Thomas, Dansby, Wilson, and Pace swarming around an opposing offense is awfully appealing.  The need is there at linebacker.  The versatility is there with Thomas.  Give Pendergast another playmaker like this and the defense could be special.

On the other hand, the team already has a lot of star power.  They made a splash last year by signing Edgerrin James.  They sold out their new stadium and host the Super Bowl in 2008.  At some point, the players have to start making plays, winning games, and live up to their potential.  Would Thomas help that mission or hinder it?

New coach, new stadium, new season, new lease on life.  It's time for the Cardinals to make one last impact on the football universe and either start winning or start another five year plan.  There is only one way to find out for sure if signing Thomas is a good idea or a bad idea.  Go ahead and do it.


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