JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After bungling free agency last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars vowed to revamp their aging roster through the draft.
They made an exception for three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tra Thomas.
Thomas signed a three-year contract with the Jaguars on Monday, filling the team's most glaring need and moving considerably closer to home.
The 34-year-old Thomas, who allowed just two sacks in 658 attempts last season, is expected to step into a starting role in place of free agent Khalif Barnes and provide leadership on a team that finished 5-11 last season and then parted ways with three captains.
"Hopefully I'm one of the key positions that's going to come in and help turn this team around," Thomas said.
The 6-foot-7, 317-pound linemen was a mainstay the last 11 years in Philadelphia. The 11th overall pick in 1998, Thomas started 165 games and has missed only eight games in his career.
The Eagles had hoped to re-sign him, but Thomas chose Jacksonville partly because it was closer to home in nearby DeLand.
"I have several years left in the tank," Thomas said. "I take good care of myself. I'm always in the weight room training. ... I put in a goal to play 20 years, so I want to come in and play as long as I possibly can. I feel like if I continue to take care of myself it can definitely happen."
The Jaguars parted ways with running back Fred Taylor, defensive end Paul Spicer and linebacker Mike Peterson, all captains, and released receiver Jerry Porter and cornerback Drayton Florence. Jacksonville gave Porter and Florence more than $20 million guaranteed, but both players struggled on the field and caused problems in the locker room.
Owner Wayne Weaver and general manager Gene Smith vowed to not make the same mistakes this time around, especially during an economic downturn.
"Tra has been a part of a lot of winning in Philadelphia, he's been durable, he's a three-time Pro Bowl player and he is a solid, experienced veteran and a good presence in the locker room," Smith said. "We have talked about character being important, and this is in line with that philosophy.
"He's the right kind of guy, and we signed him to a contract that is a good, fair deal for us and for him. This is a good value, and we feel a logical move for both of us."
The move also should give Jacksonville more flexibility heading into next month's NFL draft. The Jaguars had been almost certain to select a left tackle with the No. 8 pick.
Smith didn't rule out drafting a tackle and having Thomas serve as a backup, but he said the plan was for Thomas to be the starter.