Julius Thomas signs with Jacksonville: Grading the move
Jacksonville signed Thomas on Wednesday to a five-year deal worth around $45 million. The average of $9 million per season would place Thomas' contract in the top three for tight ends, right in line with Rob Gronkowski and slightly behind Jimmy Graham.
If the focus specifically centers on Thomas's scoring prowess, those financial figures work. Thomas scored 24 touchdowns combined in 2013-14; Graham finished with 26 TDs over that same stretch, while Gronkowski posted 12 this past year.
Questions about Gronkowski's ability to succeed minus Tom Brady or Graham to do so without Drew Brees may not be asked in earnest should those scenarios ever present themselves. But, at least as of yet, the still-raw Thomas does not have the complete games those players do. So, a swap of Manning for Blake Bortles could come with significant repercussions statistically.
Denver opted to retain WR Demaryius Thomas this off-season, at the indirect cost of Julius Thomas. In fact, the Denver Post's Mike Klis reported Monday that the Broncos did not even so much as reach out to Julius Thomas prior to his becoming a free agent.
They simply may have been resigned to the fact that Thomas had priced himself out of Denver's comfort zone, but John Elway and company also did not place a premium on keeping the back-to-back Pro Bowl tight end.
Jacksonville's situation differed. The Jaguars had money to burn on Thomas and an obvious need for playmakers on offense. The 2014 draft saw the Jaguars add Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, in addition to Bortles, and undrafted rookie Allen Hurns unexpectedly emerged.
But the team's leading pass-catcher at tight end was veteran Marcedes Lewis, who topped out at 18 catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas should break those totals without breaking much of a sweat, provided Jacksonville can find ways to get him the football.
Therein lies the key to Thomas's future. He is not now, nor does he ever project to be, a great blocker and his pass-catching game requires refinement, if he ever stands to be more dominant than he is now. The Jaguars' scheme will have to be tailored to his skill set, at least in the early going.
It's still worth a shot for Jacksonville, though.
Grade: B. This mark would be higher if Thomas had managed to show a more well-rounded game with the Broncos. Of course, had he done so, Jacksonville may not have been able to pluck him off the free-agent market for $9 million a year.
Considering that the Jaguars will enter free agency with more money to burn than any other NFL team, going over the top on Thomas is understandable, to an extent.
Thomas may never live up to the billing that contract brings. After all, he mustered just 489 yards receiving in 13 games last season. At worst, though, Thomas will create some mismatches for a Jacksonville offense that is trending upward.