Former Bird Thomas Decides To Hang Them Up
By Lance Epstein
At the conclusion of the 2008-09 season, the Philadelphia Eagles and left tackle Tra Thomas parted ways, but he will be forever etched in Eagles lore.
The year before head coach Andy Reid arrived in Philadelphia, then coach Ray Rhodes made one of his best moves by selecting Thomas with the 11th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
For an entire decade, Thomas protected Pro bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb's blindside and hoped huge holes for RBs Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook. More impressively, Thomas played at a high-level through multiple back injuries and started 165 of 166 games in a Eagles uniform.
However, during the 2009 offseason, the Eagles and Thomas decided it was time to split ways. The Eagles traded a first-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for T Jason Peters. Meanwhile, Thomas, a free agent, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Last year, Thomas played in only eight games and even worse he started in only three. This past offseason, the San Diego Chargers signed him as a free agent. Thomas, 35, was expected to compete for the starting left tackle job with LT Marcus McNeill possibly holding out until week 10 with a contract issue.
Unfortunately, the 12 years of service in the NFL took its toll on the 6-foot-7, 316 pounders knees and he was forced to have arthroscopic knee surgery early in training camp. After the surgery, Thomas was passed on the depth chart and he realized that it was time to hang the cleats up.
"I was just watching film and I don't think I was playing as well in practice as I should be," Thomas said. "If I'm not playing well in practice, I'm not going to play up to my standard in a game ... I feel very good about the decision. I 'm going out on my own terms. At least, I know I gave it everything I could.
"I could have milked it for a year. But I have too much respect for the game to do that."
Of course the Eagles never won a Super Bowl in Thomas' era with the club, but he was selected to three Pro Bowls, earned an All-Pro selection in 2002 and was honored as one of the greatest Eagles of all-time as he was named to the Philadelphia Eagles 75th anniversary team.
Besides the individual accolades, Thomas was the ultimate team player. Thomas played through nagging and serious injuries (played at a extremely high level even consistent with back issues). Not only did he play, he put his career on the line and played better than most left tackles in the league who were completely healthy. Additionally, he was a key reason the Eagles organization made their second Super bowl appearance and had a renaissance over the past ten years.
Certainly Thomas is not going to get the glory, spotlight and attention that Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins or Westbrook will receive from the Philly faithful when they retire, but fans should thank him for his time in Philadelphia. He will go down as one of the best, if not the best, left tackle in Eagles history. Without him, the Eagles franchise might never have escalated to elite status.
** As a side note, I got the chance to talk with Thomas last week in San Diego. I thanked him for his service in Philadelphia and wished him good luck with the rest of his career. It is only a matter of time until Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has him back at the Linc to celebrate his fine career.