Pats defense gets boost as Thomas agrees to deal

Updated: March 4, 2007, 7:04 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Not since 1995, when Willie McGinest was in just his second season, have the New England Patriots had a defender post double-digit sacks. That long drought is likely to end in 2007.

Linebacker
Baltimore Ravens

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2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
83 64 19 0 11 1

The Patriots have reached an agreement in principle with former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas, among the premier players in the unrestricted free agent pool, and the seven-year veteran appears to be a perfect fit for coach Bill Belichick's trademark 3-4 defensive scheme.

Thomas has 28 sacks over the past three seasons, with a career-best 11 sacks in 2006.

Thomas, 29, will have a physical examination on Saturday, when the contract is expected to be finalized. Financial details of what is believed to be a six-year deal, the principle elements of which were agreed to Friday, were not yet available.

But Thomas, who played for Belichick in the Pro Bowl last month, almost certainly will be one of the highest-paid players in free agency. Rated by ESPN.com as the No. 2 unrestricted player available, Thomas figures to land guarantees totaling at least $15 million. There is speculation the contract will average $10 million per year.

With its once-feared linebacker corps in obvious decline, and forced to cut and paste on the unit over the past couple seasons, the New England defense sorely needed the kind of upgrade Thomas should bring. He is the kind of hybrid, edge-type player around whom Belichick has traditionally constructed his defensive schemes, a wonderfully versatile athlete who can morph into multiple roles.

In fact, during his seven years in Baltimore, Thomas played nearly every defensive position, including cornerback, at various times. At 270 pounds, Thomas is physical enough to take on the action at the point of attack, yet swift enough to pursue plays from the backside. His unique blend of physical skills made him the Pats' top target in free agency.

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Adalius Thomas
Thomas
Linebacker Adalius Thomas is No. 2 on ESPN.com's list of the top NFL free agents on the market. Story

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A sixth-round choice in the 2000 draft, Thomas began his career playing on special teams and he earned his first of two Pro Bowl berths in that role. He eventually worked his way into the defensive rotation as a specialist and then became a starter three years ago.

In 96 games, the former Southern Mississippi star has 371 tackles, 38 sacks, six interceptions, 31 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles and five recoveries.

New England has also reached agreement with 12-year veteran tight end Kyle Brady on a two-year contract.

Brady, 35, agreed to a two-year contract that is worth $5.3 million and includes a $2 million signing bonus. The 12-year veteran, who played the past eight years in Jacksonville, likely will replace Daniel Graham on the roster. Graham is one of the top unrestricted free agents and isn't expected to return to New England.

Noted more as a blocker at this late juncture of his career, Brady should team with Benjamin Watson in the two-tight end formations the Pats frequently use. A first-round pick in the 1995 draft, Brady has 334 career receptions for 3,449 yards and 23 touchdowns. His best season was in 2000, when Brady notched 64 catches for 729 yards and three scores.

The former Penn State star saw his playing time and his role as a receiver reduced in recent seasons with the Jaguars, who rarely employ a tight end on third down. Brady had only five receptions for 37 yards in 2006 and, for the first time in his career, failed to score a touchdown.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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