With the Miami Dolphins working on a potential trade of offensive tackle Branden Albert to the Jacksonville Jaguars and also possibly interested in acquiring Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas, here are five things to know about Thomas:
- Thomas had the two best seasons of his career in 2013 and 2014, when Miami coach Adam Gase was offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. Thomas had 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns for Denver in 2013 and 43 catches for 489 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014, earning a Pro Bowl bid in both seasons. It didn’t hurt Gase or Thomas that quarterback Peyton Manning started 16 regular-season games in both seasons. Miami’s top tight end last season, Dion Sims, caught 26 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns and is about to become an unrestricted free agent. Thomas and Sims both wear #80.
- Like other NFL tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, Thomas played college basketball. Thomas set school records at Portland State in games played (121) and career field-goal percentage (66.3). Thomas opened eyes at the East-West Shrine Game and rose from a projected undrafted or late-round draft choice to a fourth-round draft choice (Denver traded up to take him) in 2011. Thomas hadn’t played football since his freshman season of high school (Mom wanted him to wait while he was growing). But in his only season of college football, Thomas had 29 catches for 453 yards and two touchdowns.
- Last offseason, the Dolphins found value in a trade for cornerback Byron Maxwell, who was considered a free-agent bust. Thomas is viewed by some the same way in Jacksonville. Thomas is the fifth-highest paid tight end in the NFL and the third-highest paid Jaguar, according to spotrac.com, but he’s averaged only 35 yards per game with nine total touchdowns in two seasons. Thomas signed a five-year, $46 million contract and there are three years remaining on that deal. While Miami could tweak the contract before officially completing any transaction on March 9 or later, Thomas’ cap hits in the next three seasons are scheduled to be: $8.3 million, $9.8 million and $10.3 million. The deal is structured so that Thomas could be cut after the 2017 season with a cap hit of only $1.2 million if it were to occur after June 1, 2018.
- Thomas grew up in Stockton, California. In this interview with SB Nation, Thomas said of growing up in an area where there was some gang activity: “Growing up in Stockton kind of left that imprint that you’re going to have to go out and fight for what you want.” Thomas sought advice from Tony Gonzalez, also a Californian, after having had some success in the NFL. Gonzalez stressed to Thomas the importance of preparation and film study. Thomas said that he ran awful routes as he was learning how to play the game at Portland State. But he was determined to get better by calling each of the four quarterbacks in his phone until one agreed to pass to him that morning. If the Dolphins happen to lose another native Californian, wide receiver Kenny Stills, to free agency, the hope would be that Thomas could ease some of the burden on receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. In this story in MMQB, Thomas is described as a “jokester with a permanent smile” who reads science fiction books, is “happy go lucky” and is a “model citizen” who has been a peer mediator and done charity work with children.
- Thomas is 6-feet-5, 257 pounds, but he is known more for his natural pass-catching skills than his run-blocking skills. Miami’s tight ends, particularly Sims and MarQueis Gray (who has re-signed with Miami) are strong run-blockers, helping to open holes for running back Jay Ajayi. But if Thomas joins the Dolphins, his role will be to split the seams (it seemed he was always open in Denver) for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, as he once did for Gase and Manning. Before the 2014 season, Gase said of Thomas: “I think he’s just going to keep getting better. He works so hard. He’s a really smart player and person. So he understands what defenses are trying to do and I’m really excited to see what he can do this year.” Thomas will also need to stay healthy, playing a total of only 18 games in the 2011 and 2012 (ankle) and 2016 (back) seasons. Thomas has reportedly missed NFL games due to injuries to his ankles, knees, fingers, hands, chest, abdomen, elbow and back.
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