Touting Thomas

HONOLULU – Memo to the Baltimore Ravens: Linebacker Adalius Thomas' latest free agent audition tape is in the mail. And safety Ed Reed is sending it.

Reed expressed some dismay toward the Ravens Saturday, after watching Thomas return a fumble for a 70-yard touchdown in the AFC's 31-28 win. Thomas, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 2, finished the game with three tackles and the fumble return. But the game was a bittersweet highlight for Reed, who expects the cap-strapped Ravens to let Thomas go in the offseason.

"You hate to see the Ravens even put him in this kind of predicament," Reed said. "That goes to show you how shady and how bad the business is and how bad certain organizations are. I really think he should have been signed a long time ago. It should have never gotten to this point. He has been nothing but loyal to them. Not only the city, but the organization. If he gets away, it's a terrible decision on their part. It was a terrible decision to even let it get this far."

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As it stands, Thomas is only one of several decisions Baltimore faces. The Ravens would like to pick up another marquee wideout this offseason, and may need to find a replacement for left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who spent the Pro Bowl this week contemplating retirement. And a Ravens team source told Yahoo! Sports last month that the team will be looking for an upgrade over running back Jamal Lewis this offseason.

According to the source, the Ravens feel Lewis has lost his ability to be an explosive player and can only operate behind a fullback. The decision is expected to come to a head before March 3, when the franchise owes him a $5 million roster bonus. Baltimore is expected to cut him before that date, clearing another $1.66 million in cap space, based on the difference between his $5 million base salary next season, and an accelerated cap hit of roughly $3.33 million.

With the cap set at $109 million next season, Thomas is expected to be the next to go, unless the Ravens can restructure several deals and get far enough under the cap to slap the franchise tag on him (at a robust $7.2 million for one season), or compete with what is expected to be a lucrative long-term deal from another team. After finishing this season with a career-high 11 sacks and being considered by some scouts to be Baltimore's best athlete on defense, both of those scenarios seem highly unlikely.

Particularly considering Baltimore will have to outbid several linebacker-needy teams that have ample cap dollars to spend. One likely suitor, the San Francisco 49ers, is expected to be about $35 million under next year's cap. Another, the New England Patriots, should have more than a $25 million surplus.


It will help Thomas' cause that Patriots coach Bill Belichick got a good look at him all week in practice, and left Saturday's game particularly impressed with the fumble return. On that particular play, the ball slipped out of the hand of St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger in the second quarter, took a bounce and landed right in the hands of Thomas, who not only outran everyone on his way to the endzone and a 14-7 AFC edge, but opened his lead along the way.

"He's a terrific athlete," Belichick said. "He really is. And that was a head's up play."

"That's been A.T. all year," added Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. "Johnny-on-the-spot. Ball rolls right to him and he takes it to the crib. There wasn't anybody that was going to catch him. That's a big part of our defense right there. I hope we do everything we can to get him back, man."

Thomas said afterward that he was open to anything, whether it was getting slapped with the franchise tag, re-signing for a long-term deal, or leaving Baltimore. But clearly he knows a breaking point has arrived – something he thought about as Baltimore's defensive players starred on Saturday, with Reed intercepting two passes and Suggs notching a sack and four tackles.


"It could be my last game with some of these Ravens guys," Thomas said. "If it is, it's been a great run – a great seven years. But it's the business side. They have to do what's best for them and I have to do what's best for me."

Asked whether the fumble return was just a taste of what the free agent suitors will be paying for, Thomas grinned.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "That will cost you a little bit."