“This is my second year off an ACL and I’m feeling better than ever,” he told reporters. “I’m excited to go off, I’m excited to go dominate, I’m excited to go be the best teammate I can for this group.”
It was a powerful statement that immediately made headlines and after Thomas explained why he was “honored to be a Jet” and reunite with ex-49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, it’s hard not to root for the guy going forward. Of course, the D-lineman knows that his success will depend on one person: himself.
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Incentive-Heavy Contract Should Inspire Thomas
The Stanford product was the No. 3 overall selection in 2017, and for good reason. Heading into the draft, NFL.com expert Lance Zierlein described his potential as the “best defender from this draft class and a future all-pro.”
So why then has Thomas only mustered 9.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss in five seasons and 65 NFL appearances?
Part of the issue has been injuries and the other major adjustment was his smaller size as an interior defensive lineman, transitioning from the Pac-10 to the professional level. Thomas wasn’t interested in making excuses.
“No one has higher expectations for myself than me,” he voiced. “I was drafted third for a reason — I know what I can do in this league and that’s why I’m still here.”
Thomas’ contract will rely upon his confidence and work ethic, two things he appears to still have. According to Over the Cap, the defender is only guaranteed $1.91 million in 2022 — a far cry from the $28 million-plus he made off his rookie deal.
However, Thomas can earn an additional $2.5 million through incentives — per OTC and Rich Cimini. In other words, the versatile talent is betting on himself with Gang Green.
Thomas received a similar type of contract from Las Vegas last year and performed well as a rotational piece. He appeared in all 17 games, with a career-high 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, as well as 34 total tackles (three for a loss).
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Saleh’s Energy Lured Thomas to New York
During a sitdown with NYJ team reporter Ethan Greenberg, Thomas praised Coach Saleh for his unrelenting fire and belief.
“I’ve been around a lot of coaches but very few have been as passionate and intense as he has,” he noted, adding that the “D-line is stacked.”
That was a common theme of the 2021 offseason, but Saleh’s front four had some growing pains in year one. So far, this unit has not changed all that much, replacing run-stuffer Foley Fatukasi with Thomas. Jacob Martin and Bradlee Anae also join the edge rusher corps, as well as a healthy Carl Lawson.
The Jets are expected to bolster the defensive line in the NFL draft, but Thomas hopes fans don’t overlook what he brings to the table. “I’m adding versatility,” he told Greenberg. “I’m adding intensity and effort. I’m a guy who has a motor [and] I’m gonna go 100% of the time, all the time. That’s just who I am.”
“I love the attack-style front we have [under Saleh],” Thomas admitted. “That’s huge for me, it lets me use my skills to my advantage. Lets me use my explosiveness, lets me use my get-off… Coach Saleh lets us eat and I’m excited to go eat.”
At the end of the day, the former first-round talent stated that he came here to “win a championship,” something Jets fans don’t always hear from their free-agent acquisitions. “I believe they have a championship culture here and I believe I can help bring something here to help guide that.”