For years now, the New York Giants have taken a "Garage Sale" approach to the linebacker position. That means collecting mostly under-the-radar, fairly low-cost free agents and using late-round draft picks to stock the position. The hope, of course, is to find gems without committing major resources to the search.
J.T. Thomas was one of those "Garage Sale" acquisitions last year, even if the Giants did bestow a fairly big three-year, $10 million contract on him, guaranteeing Thomas $4.5 million. Thomas was selected by the Chicago Bears in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He spent 2011 on IR, then dressed for all 16 games in 2012 but never started. He spent two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars and started 10 games in 2014. His Pro Football Focus grades for him in 2014 were -13.1 vs. the run, +2.1 in pass rush and -3.9 in coverage. His overall score was -14.3 in 729 snaps. The Jaguars said they didn't have a starting spot for him in 2015 and he hit the free-agent market, landing with the Giants.
How did the move work out for the Giants? Let's take a look at the veteran linebacker as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp later this month.
2015 Season in Review
The linebacker play for the Giants wasn't nearly good enough in 2015, anyone who watched them play regularly knows that. The Giants, according to Football Outsiders, ranked 28th in the league covering tight ends. They surrendered 80.7 yards per game to tight ends, while league average was 55.0.
Was Thomas part of the problem? Or, was the fact that he only played in 12 games -- some on a bum ankle -- part of the problem? Or, is it both? Thomas had just 46 tackles and a half-sack in 2015. In 2014, he had 84 tackles, five passes defensed and two interceptions. So, when he played he wasn't nearly as productive for the Giants in terms of plays made as he had been for the Jaguars. His PFF scores in 2015 were -7.7 in run defense, -1.1 in pass rush, +3.9 in pass coverage. His overall score was -6.6 in 405 snaps.
2016 Season Outlook
We don't know the severity of the injury that kept Thomas out of spring practices. Coach Ben McAdoo would only call it a "lower leg" injury. If healthy, Thomas figures to compete with journeyman Jonathan Casillas for the WILL position. Thomas made 11 starts in 12 games played to 7 in 15 games played for Casillas last season. Casillas, though, played far more snaps -- 672-401.
Honestly, with Thomas injured in the spring it is impossible to know which of the two players, Thomas or Casillas, the Giants prefer. Both players have started at times during their careers. Both have been backups. Like last season, it is entirely possible that they end up more or less splitting the snaps.