Saints add Thomas to depleted backfield

Updated: November 8, 2005, 12:03 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The "A-Train" is back on the NFL tracks, but with a New Orleans Saints team whose season has already been derailed.

Still attempting to compensate for the season-ending knee injury to Deuce McAllister from a month ago, the Saints have added veteran free-agent tailback Anthony Thomas, a former league rookie of the year. Thomas was released by the Dallas Cowboys last week after the team opted to go with younger backs.

Contract details were not yet available.

A five-year veteran, Thomas will try to provide some power to the New Orleans ground game, which has been sporadic in McAllister's absence. Thomas joins fellow veterans Antowain Smith and Aaron Stecker on the New Orleans depth chart.

"He's a good fit for what we do," coach Jim Haslett said. "We've been interested in him in the past, as a possible backup [to McAllister], and it just didn't work out. But when the Cowboys released him, we definitely knew he could help us."

It is the second move at tailback the Saints have made since losing McAllister for the year. Last month, New Orleans acquired Jesse Chatman in a trade with Miami for a low-round conditional draft pick, but then waived him because he was out of shape.

Thomas, 28, was a second-round choice of the Chicago Bears in 2001 and earned league offensive rookie of the year honors that season, rushing 278 times for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. All of those numbers remain career bests for Thomas, although he did post a second 1,000-yard season with the Bears in 2003.

The former University of Michigan star signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys this spring as an unrestricted free agent. He started one game when Julius Jones was sidelined by a knee injury, then was eclipsed on the depth chart by a pair of rookies, Marion Barber and Tyson Thompson. The pending return of Jones, who has begun practicing again, made Thomas expendable.

Last week, Thomas was one of several veteran free agent backs who auditioned in New England, but the Patriots decided to sign Michael Cloud instead. There was interest from several other teams, beyond the Saints, in the veteran back.

New Orleans has used both Smith and Stecker as starters since McAllister was lost for the year after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in an Oct. 9 game at Green Bay. Smith has started three contests and Stecker one game. Smith rushed for 110 yards in last Sunday's loss to the Bears and is likely to remain the starter for now.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.