When the 2017 NFL offseason began, there were a number of veteran players expected to be released by the New York Giants. One was linebacker J.T. Thomas. The West Virginia product signed a three-year, $10 million deal with New York in 2015. Even at the time, it left people scratching their heads. Why pay more than $3 million per season for a guy who has never developed into a reliable player? 80-85 percent of his production could surely be found for next to nothing.
Two years later, that line of thinking was proven correct. Thomas’ production could easily have been replaced by someone making the veteran minimum. New York gave him a pay cut last year, and the thought was he would receive the official cut this year. With a $4 million cap hit in 2017, releasing him would save the team $3 million against the cap.
Not only was he passed over on the depth chart at linebacker, but Thomas also hasn’t been able to stay on the field period. He lost much of last season thanks to a knee injury. He missed a portion of 2015 thanks to injury as well. Over the course of two-plus seasons, the Giants have paid sizable money for Thomas to be a back-end rotation linebacker or be injured. Training camp is probably his last chance to prove himself or risk being jettisoned for good.
That’s the pessimistic side of Thomas’ standing in the NFL. There is a positive side to consider too, though.
When New York signed him to a free-agent deal back in 2015, Thomas was coming off of a productive final season in Jacksonville. He had started 10 games, his first time getting a real chance to start games in his career. He intercepted passes, forced fumbles, and was a generally productive starting linebacker in this league. In fact, according to Pro Football Reference approximate value, Thomas’ 2014 was better than Keenan Robinson or Devon Kennard were last year for New York.
Then, in Thomas’ first season in New York, he once again garnered starting minutes. He started in 11 of his 12 games before going down with injury. Though he wasn’t as useful as a Giant as he was on the Jaguars, he was still adequate. And it was his first season in a new locker room, under a new coordinator.
If not for the knee injury the following year, 2016 could have been a major breakout for Thomas. He was coming off of two solid seasons, ready to take the next step after learning the Giants system. Instead, he lost that year entirely. While the realist may say Thomas is injury-prone and not worth his $4 million salary, an optimist could see 2017 as being that pending breakout.
Of course, to do so, he will have to beat out some teammates for playing time. Nevertheless, there is opportunity here. Neither Robinson nor Kennard are stars. Thomas even spent some time playing the middle for Jacksonville. New York isn’t quite sold on B.J. Goodson yet as middle linebacker. The chance remains for Thomas to iron out an important role for himself on this team.