Thomas to battle for backup role

The "A-Train" is back on-board an NFL roster.

Former offensive rookie of the year Anthony Thomas, an unrestricted free agent who had surprisingly garnered only modest interest on the open market, on Monday evening signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys to back up starting tailback Julius Jones.

Details of the contract, which will not be submitted to the league office until Tuesday, were not yet available. It is believed the Cowboys will have to make a corresponding roster move before filing the Thomas contract.

The acquisition of Thomas, who in four seasons with the Chicago Bears twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards, further bolsters a Dallas backfield that too often came up short in 2004. Dallas last week added former University of Minnesota standout tailback Marion Barber III in the fourth round of the draft.

It was originally believed that Barber would be the principle backup to Jones, the second-year veteran who rushed for 819 yards and seven touchdowns in just seven starts last year. But securing the services of Thomas significantly upgrades the Dallas depth chart, and now potentially gives the Cowboys one of the best tailback trios in the league.

"It seems like a good opportunity to refresh myself," Thomas told The Associated Press. "I talked with Buffalo, Cincinnati, Seattle, New Orleans and Jacksonville. Dallas seemed like the best fit for me. It's a great organization with a good offensive line and they've brought in Drew Bledsoe, and they've already got Drew Henson.

"I just want to learn the offense so that I can get on the field as soon as possible."

One oddity: Last year, when he lost his starting job in Chicago, Thomas was the backup to Thomas Jones. This year, he will be the No. 2 tailback behind his younger brother.

Thomas, 27, visited recently with Buffalo Bills officials and acknowledged that he would like to sign there. But the Bills have been unable to trade Travis Henry this offseason and Thomas did not want to wait to see if a deal developed. Dallas had quietly indicated some interest in Thomas earlier in the offseason.

Like many runners, Thomas suffered in the free agent market from the glut of tailbacks who were available in trade talks and also in the draft. With only four seasons in the NFL and, given his age, he remains a quality back with several good seasons remaining.

The former University of Michigan star was a second-round choice of the Bears in the 2001 draft. Despite starting only10 games in '01, he rushed 278 times for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns, and earned offensive rookie of the year honors for those efforts. All of those statistics remain career highs.

Thomas also posted a 1,000-yard season in 2003, rushing for 1,024 yards and six scores on 244 carries.

For his career, Thomas has appeared in 51 games and started 37 of them. He has logged 858 carries for 3,332 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also has 72 receptions for 509 yards. In 2004, he started only two games and posted career lows in attempts (122), yards (404), yards per carry (3.3) and touchdowns (two).

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.