Linebacker Dontarrious Thomas could experience free agency for the first time in his life, and he doesn't seem bothered that the Vikings haven't signed him yet, calling it a negotiation "dead period" in between the end of the season and the frenzy before the start of free agency.
Asked if he thinks he'll be waiting until the start of free agency in March before he signs with a team, he said: "I'm in no rush. At this point in time you have to make the best decision for yourself and look at all the options. You don't want to jump the gun on something."
Thomas has had sporadic opportunities to start for the Vikings throughout his four-year career, but the unrestricted free-agent-to-be has never been able to hold onto a full-time starting job. But since the Vikings implemented their Tampa-2 defense under coordinators Mike Tomlin in 2006 and Leslie Frazier in 2007, Thomas hasn't been given much an opportunity on defense, although he has played a strong role on special teams.
In 2006, it was Ben Leber (strong side), E.J. Henderson (weak side) and Napoleon Harris (middle) as the starting linebackers, and the Vikings drafted Chad Greenway in the first round before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason. Still, Thomas could muster only three starts while filling in for an injured Leber for one game and Harris for two.
Last year, he didn't even get that opportunity, as the starting linebacker crew of Leber (strong side), Greenway (weak side) and Henderson (middle) stayed healthy enough to play every game.
"They played really good and all the backers had a good season, but I was able to get out there and contribute to the team on special teams and stuff," Thomas said.
As a second-round draft pick in 2004, Thomas started five of the 16 games in which he played and even had a 16-tackle game against Chicago early that year. In his second season, he started two games in the first month of the season and was used as a backup the rest of the way.
Then came 2006, when the Vikings installed a new defensive scheme with a new defensive coordinator. Thomas showed his versatility by filling in at middle linebacker and strongside linebacker. The way he was used early in his career has helped him adapt to different linebacker positions and responsibilities as the circumstances have changed, he said.
Thomas said his future wasn't discuss at length at the end-of-season meetings, but the coaches were aware of his situation as a pending free agent.
"We talked about it, where hopefully we can get into it and work this thing out. Both sides have just got to take a look at it, but it's up in the air right now," he said. "I have no problem coming back. I'm definitely excited to come back, but we'll see. There is still a long ways to go. We've still got a lot of time, so I'm sure the coaches are just evaluating and doing their research right now to make the best decision for the team."
He said his potential role for 2008 also wasn't discussed.
So what is he looking for with his next contract, whether that is with the Vikings or another NFL team?
"Just an opportunity, as far as getting a chance to play football and get back out there. As long as it's legit, I'm all for it," he said. "I don't really get into the contract negotiations – I leave that up to my agent. I'm just looking for an opportunity to play.
"I definitely have no qualms about coming back. Hopefully we'll talk and get something worked out."
And for now, he isn't worrying about the other linebackers who could be on the market when free agency starts.
"Later, when the free-agent market opens, we (Thomas and his agent) are going to sit down and get our game plan and see how it is and take it from there," he said.
LB Thomas: Free Agency Up in Air
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