Saints reach agreement with Thomas on extension

The New Orleans Saints on Monday reached an agreement with defensive tackle Hollis Thomas on a four-year contract extension, taking the veteran off the unrestricted market just four days before the start of the free-agent signing period.

Hollis Thomas Thomas

Between bonuses and base salary, Thomas, 33, will earn $6 million in 2007 on a deal that totals $12 million. The 11-year veteran is the latest key player leaguewide to agree to an extension before the start of free agency, further diluting an already shallow talent pool.

Discussions between Saints officials and agent Ron Slavin were ramped up at the annual NFL scouting combine over the weekend.

"At first, we had a difference of opinion as far as the money
and the market value. But the negotiations weren't bad," Thomas said.
In the end, he said, "They made me happy."

Thomas said he'll be taking a year at a time.

"As long as I
still have the passion, I'll keep playing. I'm not going to kid
myself. I'll play each year one year at a time, come out and try to
play my best. At the end of it, if I don't feel like going back to
work out at the end of the season, then that's when I'll know I'm
not supposed to be here anymore."

It was uncertain at the end of the '06 season how the Saints would proceed with Thomas, who would have certainly drawn considerable interest in the unrestricted market, but then ultimately decided he was a player they had to retain.

One of the NFL's top interior run-stuffers during his career and a veteran who brought leadership and toughness to New Orleans during the franchise's turnaround season in 2006, Hollis notched 43 tackles, 3½ sacks and one fumble recovery in his first season with the Saints.

Thomas missed four games because of a league suspension for violation of the NFL's steroid abuse policy.

The former Northern Illinois standout was acquired from Philadelphia in a draft weekend trade last spring after spending the first 10 seasons of his career with the Eagles. He made the Philadelphia roster as an undrafted college free agent in 1996.

In 138 career appearances, Thomas has 594 tackles, 17 sacks, eight forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and 12 pass deflections. Because of his size and strength, he typically commands double-team blocking.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.