A year ago, the New York Giants were able to sign free-agent defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka to a team-favorable contract because he was coming off a serious neck injury and therefore unable to attain maximum market value for a player of his considerable talents. This was fortunate for the Giants, as Kiwanuka became a vital contributor to their Super Bowl run in a hybrid LB/DE role.
The Giants are up against the salary cap again, and once again they have to try and figure out which of their own free agents to sign. The Kiwanuka case applies here because of Terrell Thomas, the cornerback who tore his ACL last preseason and missed all of 2011 as a result. Thomas is a free agent, as is the healthy Aaron Ross. And given their cap concerns, the Giants seem more likely to try and sign Thomas than Ross. Thomas, you see, is likely to cost less, because he's got the injury.
Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News spoke with Thomas over the weekend, and Thomas is optimistic that the injury won't deflate his market value too much:
Seven months ago, Thomas who led the Giants with five interceptions in 2010 might have been in line for a deal similar to the five-year, $43 million contract extension the Giants gave Corey Webster in 2008. Now? Who knows? Certainly it'll be a shorter deal. Less lucrative, too.
Thomas is still dreaming of something bigger, though, which may be why negotiations with the Giants have stalled. He points out that in 2010 the Jacksonville Jaguars gave defensive end Aaron Kampman a four-year, $26 million contract with $11 million guaranteed, while he was still rehabbing a torn ACL.
"You know what? You never know," he says. "I learned coming in that all you need is one team to like you. That's all I'm hoping for, whether it's the Giants or one of the other 31 teams out there. All you need is one team to believe in you and trust in you."
The Giants like Thomas, and they were willing to trust in him a year ago as one of their starting cornerbacks. But if they can't get him back on a discount, they're not likely to have him back. It worked last year with Kiwanuka, but when Steve Smith got a bigger offer from a division rival, the Giants didn't push to keep him. They believed they had better options that constituted better use of their resources. The odds are good that the Giants have a number in mind beyond which they will not go to bring back Thomas and his rehabbing knee. If Thomas can do better than that number elsewhere, then elsewhere he's likely to be.
My bet is that he doesn't find what he's looking for on the market and that this all works out with the Giants. But with Webster still on the team and last year's first-round pick, Prince Amukamara, likely to assume a larger role in 2012, you'd better believe they'll be patient and wait for Thomas to come back to them.