Scout.com senior NFL writer Adam Caplan reported Thursday that while various media outlets feel that the San Francisco 49ers will have a deal in place Thursday night/Friday morning with Baltimore Ravens unrestricted free agent OLB Adalius Thomas, league sources indicate that the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots could also show interest. All three teams use a 3-4 defensive scheme.
New England lost out in the Julian Peterson sweepstakes last year when the 49ers free agent linebacker moved up the Pacific Coast Highway to sign a $54 million contact with the Seattle Seahawks. It's believed that The Patriots are more willing this year to spend the cash necessary to obtain a player with Thomas' skills. If they're going to get him, they're going to have to pry him away from the 49ers who are reportedly Thomas' preferred destination if he can't stay in Baltimore.
Patriots' owner Robert Kraft indicated that New England wouldn't be cheap in the free agent market when trying to field the best possible team, and that includes obtaining high profile free agents like Thomas.
"We're going to spend the money," said Kraft in early February. "We're always going to spend to and over the cap"
That's good if it were true. The Patriots are roughly $20 million under the cap factoring in Asante Samuel's roughly $8 million cap number and the cap savings from the impending release of running back Corey Dillon.
The Patriots were widely criticized for not accommodating the salary demands of their top free agents last season. Receiver David Givens signed a lucrative deal with the Tennessee Titans. Linebacker Willie McGinest joined the Cleveland Browns and Kicker Adam Vinatieri signed with the Indianapolis Colts to help them ultimately defeat the Patriots and become Super Bowl Champions.
Kraft was careful to measure his comments on being overly aggressive with their cash outlays by indicating the Patriots would still follow their planned spending ways, even in pursuit of attractive free agents.
"Our fans have to realize that we're living with a budget," he said of the team's pay for value system. "Every decision that's being made is to try to put us in the best position to win football games."
It was the Patriots' frugal negotiations, which turned off Vinatieri, and caused him to get serious about advances made by the Colts. That same frugal negotiation strategy will not be enough to sign Thomas.
It is expected that Thomas's agent will demand a deal similar in nature to Peterson's. The Seahawk's prized free agent acquisition was guaranteed $18.5 million over the life of the contract (a 7-year contract), but in reality it is more like a three-year deal. The first three seasons Peterson's salary is relatively modest at $1 million (2006), $2 million (2007) and $3.5 million (2008). In 2009, when Peterson turns 31, the base pay jumps to $6.9 million and escalates from there.
Thomas turns 30 this year. To spend that type of money on a 30-year old linebacker may not be in any team's best interests over the long haul, but Thomas has shown that he's durable. He has missed just three games in the past six seasons. A three-year investment in a playmaker of his caliber who is durable may just be what the Patriots need to shore up their defense in spite of the risks.
Thomas becomes a free agent at 12:01 am on Friday morning. His phone is guaranteed to be ringing off the hook at 12:02. If he answers it, it's very likely the Patriots will be one of the teams trying to get through.
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