A Winner All Around

It was a move that wasn't terribly surprising and actually made sense given Zach Thomas' age, his 2008 salary and the fact he's coming off a concussion-affected season, but it doesn't make it any easier for Dolphins fans. In letting Thomas go on Thursday, the Dolphins' new regime closed the book on one of the greatest careers in franchise history.

Over the past quarter-century, there might not have been a greater Dolphins player when you combine on-the-field performance with off-the-field contributions and cooperation with the media.

On the field, Thomas' resume speaks for itself.

He made the Pro Bowl seven times, led the Dolphins in tackles 10 of his 12 seasons with the team and led a defense that was good more often than not.

Considered too short and too small coming out of Texas Tech in 1996, Thomas overcame those shortcomings with a football acumen and work ethic second to none.

His fear of failure served as motivation, as did slights from the media, whether the knock was that he was a product of the system or thrived because he played behind productive defensive tackles.

Whatever he did worked because Thomas always was among the best linebackers in the league. You can argue all you want about whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame five years after he ends his career, but there is no denying -- no way, no how -- just how good an NFL player he was.

Off the field, Thomas simply was a great guy.

For us members of the media, he was the best, always cooperative, never afraid to speak his mind. He also always was like a regular guy. Maybe it was the fact he's not built like a typical NFL linebacker or maybe it was his roots, but Zach never seemed like he was above anything.

Throughout his 12 seasons with the Dolphins, there was never a peep about him getting into any kind of trouble, he never stepped out of line, handled everything that came his way behind closed doors.

It's actually going to be strange watching the Dolphins defense in 2008 and not see Thomas lining up at his familiar middle linebacker spot.

Again, this isn't to suggest the move to release him was wrong, because it wasn't.

Thomas' time had come. He knew it. Everybody knew it. It doesn't make any easier to watch one of the greatest Dolphins players ever move on.

All we -- and that includes former and current teammates, coaches, members of the media and fans -- can do now is wish Thomas the best in his next endeavor and thank him for all he brought to the Dolphins for the past 12 seasons.

He should be put into the Dolphin Honor Roll as early as next season. In fact, it should be a no-brainer.

Zach Thomas never did win a championship with the Dolphins. But the man clearly was a winner.

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Alain Poupart is the Associate Editor of Dolphin Digest and DolphinDigest.com. To read him every day, visit DolphinDigest.com and become a Miami Dolphins insider.