The Jets on Friday signed Thomas, a one-time defensive end who has flourished this season playing a hybrid role in the team's new 3-4 front, to a five-year contract extension through the 2011 campaign. Without the extension, Thomas, a first-round choice in the 2002 draft, would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring.
ESPN.com has learned that the extension can be worth as much as $25 million and it includes $9 million in guarantees.
"The Jets were always very supportive of Bryan in his first five seasons," agent Brian Mackler said. "With the way things have gone this year, Bryan just wanted to be part of what [general manager] Mike Tannenbaum and [coach] Eric Mangini are building there. He's excited about the future and decided to pass up the potential for making more money on the free agent market."
Thomas, 27, has enjoyed a career season under Mangini in 2006. Playing for the first time in the 3-4 alignment, a scheme that allows him to take advantage of his all-around athletic skills, he has posted career highs in tackles (58) and sacks (five), and has one forced fumble, while starting in all 11 games.
His quick assimilation of the 3-4, and his enhanced production in it, would have made Thomas a player who generated considerable interest in the free agent market. But the Jets made retaining him a priority and the extension agreement culminates weeks of discussions.
"He's done everything we've asked of him, and he exemplifies the type of player we want on defense," Mangini said.
The 22nd player chosen overall in 2002, Thomas was viewed as a surprise selection by the Jets, given that they already had two first-round defensive ends in John Abraham and Shaun Ellis at the time. But then-coach Herm Edwards coveted Thomas' pass-rush skills and athleticism, and felt he was a viable choice at that point in the draft.
In Thomas' first four seasons, however, the former Alabama-Birmingham star recorded only 6½ sacks, averaged just 32.8 tackles and started 21 games. There were some concerns in camp this summer about how Thomas would fit in with a new coaching staff and a reworked defense, but he has been a pleasant surprise and one of the team's most productive players.
For his career, Thomas now has 189 tackles, 11½ sacks, five passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.