The team certainly hasn’t gotten what they’d hoped out of Thomas when they signed him to a five-year contract worth $46 million with $24 million guaranteed in March 2015. It’s partly due to injury and also because of erratic quarterback play by Blake Bortles, but Thomas has 76 catches for 736 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons.
Injuries have been the biggest issue for Thomas, who was placed on injured reserve Saturday. He missed the first four games last season because of a fractured bone in his hand and it took a while for him to get involved in the offense when he did return. He finished with 46 catches -- the second-highest total of his career -- but his yardage was way down (455 yards, the lowest of his career in which he played more than five games) and so were his TDs (five).
Thomas caught nine passes for 135 yards and a touchdown in the first two games of this season, but since then has caught more than three passes in a game just once and hasn’t had more than 28 yards receiving in any game. Thomas has played in only nine games this season. He missed Week 4 with an elbow injury and hasn’t practiced or played since hurting his back against Detroit Nov. 20. So in two seasons Thomas will have missed 11 games because of injury.
That’s nearly a full season out of action, which means the Jaguars will have paid Thomas $1.14 million per game -- or $328,767.12 per reception -- in his two seasons with the club.
Erratic play from Bortles hasn’t helped, but the Jaguars haven’t used Thomas correctly, either. They’ve had him catching quick out passes and have him turn up field and gain additional yardage. That’s not his game. He’s not a guy who evades tacklers or runs through them. He’s better used downfield, especially on seam passes, or lined up outside in the red zone to get a mismatch with a linebacker. That’s how he was used in Denver, though some of his success there was because he had Peyton Manning throwing to him and Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the outside.
Plus, the Jaguars have asked him to be a blocker, which isn’t his strength, either.
Still, Thomas should have been more productive with the Jaguars, and it’s a legitimate question as to whether the team should -- or will -- bring him back next season. Whether that happens depends on which general manager and coaching staff is in place. Head coach Gus Bradley is expected to be fired after the season, but it’s unclear whether owner Shad Khan will retain or fire GM Dave Caldwell.
A new GM and/or coach may want to move on from Thomas, especially if they like what they see from young tight ends Ben Koyack and Neal Sterling over this season’s final month. The money they save on Thomas could better be spent elsewhere in free agency, such as along the offensive line or on a quarterback if the new regime isn’t committed to Bortles.
Thomas’ contract isn’t outrageously expensive, so the Jaguars could keep him another year. He is due $7 million in 2017, and that amount becomes fully guaranteed by the fifth day of the 2017 league year. However, the Jaguars would be on the hook for $3.6 million in dead money if they were to release him. Thomas is scheduled to earn $8.5 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019, though none of that is guaranteed.
If Thomas does return, he needs to be used in a way that fits his strengths, or it’s a waste of time and money.