The Curious Case of
Benjamin Button Zach Thomas.
Unlike Brad Pitt in the movie, Zach didn't exactly grow younger as he got older. But boy did he grow sick and tired in a hurry.
This is how it was supposed to work:
After a successful, yet ultimately unfulfilling career in Miami, Zach Thomas returns to his home state. A hero at Texas Tech, he'll be a legendary spittin' image of Lee Roy Jordan with the Dallas Cowboys. In February he signs a one-year, $3 million contract to play inside linebacker for a team on the cusp of a title. Considered the gritty, veteran missing link on a talented defense, Thomas comes to Texas prepared to ride off into the sunset after finally winning a Super Bowl.
Of course, this is how it actually didn't work.
Thomas was a peach to the media from the get-go. Interviews as long as you wanted. He wasn't here to be a leader; stating and patiently re-stating he only wanted to be a contributor. His humility was refreshing and authentic, and soon it stuck out like Tony Romo's fractured pinkie.
Not long after Thomas' arrival, former assistant coach Joe Avezzano - these days a multi-medium media star with his weekly TV gig with Dale Hansen on Channel 8 and post-game radio show with Wally Lynn and Greg Williams on ESPN Radio - approached Zach about a regular appearance on another radio show heard weekly on 95.3 FM The Range. No way, Thomas told him. I'm the new guy just trying to fit in. My job's to fly around the football while flying under the radar.
But after Dallas' dismal defeat to the horrendous St. Louis Rams, Thomas could bite his tongue no longer. Before the Tampa Bay game in late October Thomas stood up in a defense meeting and for the first time commanded the room, imploring his teammates to shelve their personal agendas and start having fun playing defense as a cohesive unit.
The 13-9 win was by far Dallas' best defensive performance of the season. But it didn't last.
By the time the Cowboys quit in the season-ending debacle, Thomas' words were gone. And he wasn't far behind them. On the post-game radio show in Philly Thomas committed to returning to play again in 2009, but as a middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
Translation: Get me the hell outta here.
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As the team's third-leading tackler despite playing only on likely running downs, Thomas had a so-so season. Steady, but hardly impactful. I remember Wade Phillips standing on the practice field during an OTA last May and remarking that "Zach Thomas is one of the smartest football players I've ever been around."
Smart. And gone.
He's a 35-year-old unrestricted free agent, and the chances of Dallas convincing him to return are about as slim as convincing Pacman Jones to stay away. Zach tried to fit in, but in the end he found himself a square-jawed peg trying to fit into a round locker room full of knuckleheads.
Ironic, in the end, that Thomas and Jason Taylor both bolted Miami for greener playoff pastures in the NFC East, only to sit at home while the Dolphins won a division.