Thomas Picks The Patriots Over 49ers

The market has started to shake out in free agency with the 49ers making the biggest splash on day one by signing CB Nate Clements and S Michael Lewis to hefty deals. San Francisco was reportedly the most serious competitor of the Patriots in the hunt to sign free agent linebacker Adalius Thomas, but their moves on Friday have taken them out of the market.

Insiders are reporting that the All-Pro outside linebacker is expected to complete a multi-million dollar deal with the New England Patriots by today. Thomas is scheduled to arrive in Foxborough to meet the staff and go through a physical as his agent hammers out the details of a deal.

New England, once thought to be out of the running for Thomas, actually had an inside track on the linebacker starting in February. Patriots coach Bill Belichick spent time chatting up the pending free agent when the two were part of the AFC squad at this year's Pro Bowl. Thomas remarked at the time that Belichick was a lot different in person than what he had heard about the coach, and that the coach was more likeable than he expected.

AFC coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots chats with Adalius Thomas of the Baltimore Ravens during practice for the Pro Bowl football game at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Friday, Feb. 9, 2007. The Pro Bowl will be played Saturday, Feb. 10. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The 49ers entered the veteran signing period with the most money to spend with $37.6 million of cap space under the league limit of $109 million. The deal for Clements, which included $22 million in guaranteed money as part of an $80 million package, and another $10 million in guarantees for safety Michael Lewis put a sizable dent in San Francisco's war chest.

Patriots Insider was told on Friday that if San Francisco signed Clements, New England would have the inside track on Thomas. The 49ers, it was believed, were afraid to lose out on both of their top free agent targets in Clements who was also drawing interest from Cleveland, and Thomas. When it became apparent that New England was serious about acquiring Thomas, the 49ers moved in to close the deal with Clements.

It's expected that Thomas' contract will be one of the highest in league history with annual salaries averaging between $6 million and $7 million. Julian Peterson, the top free agent linebacker from 2006 - also a target of the Patriots -- signed a $54 million deal ($18.5 million guaranteed) with the Seattle Seahawks. Thomas, who is a more complete player, should command a higher bonus according to sources. The Ravens declined to place the $7.2 million franchise tag on Thomas to keep him in Baltimore.

UPDATE: From Ravens Insider

Ravens Insider has learned what Thomas turned down from the San Francisco 49ers. He could have signed a deal with $20 million in guaranteed money as part of a five-year, $40 million package. Concerns about the high cost of living in Northern California and the Patriots' salesmanship that he will have a chance to win a Super Bowl ring prompted Thomas' decision.

Also, Thomas built a strong rapport with Patriots coach Bill Belichick when he coached the AFC squad at this year's Pro Bowl.

Aaron Wilson of Ravens Insider contributed to this report. Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll Country Times

Patriots Insider has been tracking the Thomas rumor step-by-step and will continue to update the status as more news becomes available. Members first learned that New England was as serious player for the defender on the Insider's Lounge, well before reports surfaces on the radio or in the media. Be sure to check out the latest on this and other news in the rumors thread here on the Patriots Insider message boards.

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