Player: Cam Thomas
Position: Defensive Lineman
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2015 Salary Cap Hit: $2,500,000
2015 Season Breakdown: The Pittsburgh Steelers exited the 2013 season with enviable defensive line depth, but that tone has certainly taken a nosedive over the course of the past two seasons. During the 2014 offseason, the Steelers lost both Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, although they did retain Brett Keisel to serve as a primary rotational player during that season.
To supplement the losses, the team signed former Chargers nose tackle/defensive end Cam Thomas, who signed a relatively modest contract that was not clearly within starter nor backup territory, with a total value of $4 million over the span of two seasons. It was a rather similar deal in value to the one that Woods ended up signing.
The team also drafted Stephon Tuitt in the second round, whom I have already highlighted in my 2015 exit meeting the type of player he has become in such a short amount of time. But who he is today is not who he was 18 months ago, which is why Thomas ultimately began the 2014 season as the Steelers’ left starting defensive end.
Thomas held that position for the first 12 games of the season, finding little success, before he was demoted in favor of Tuitt. He entered this offseason as a potential primary candidate for release, as the Steelers would figure to gain $2 million in salary cap space prior to displacement.
But the team was unable to satisfactorily address their defensive line depth, and he admittedly showed some progress in his game during the preseason, though even that featured a downward trajectory from the first preseason game to the last.
Over the course of the entire season, including the playoffs, Thomas logged just 183 snaps, 124 of which came in the nickel, which of course was the Steelers’ base defense. He saw only about 40 snaps as a defensive end, with the remainder of his snaps featured as a nose tackle.
Since I know that you’re curious, the Steelers allowed an average of about 3.4 yards per carry when he was on the field. All of his 11 tackles came against the run, producing an average of 3.36 yards on those 11 plays, but that actually does a bit of disservice to him for his tackle of Johnny Manziel down the field that saved a touchdown after 11 yards. Factoring that play out, his average tackle distance was just 2.6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Of course that doesn’t account for all of the plays that he failed to make a tackle that he could have for whatever reason, nor does it account for his disappointing pass rush after showing early potential during the preseason.
Free Agency Outlook: All things considered, Thomas doesn’t figure to be back. The Steelers certainly didn’t get their money’s worth over the life of his contract. If he does return, it would not be for anything more than a veteran-minimum deal, but you have to believe the team is more interested in moving on, particularly to a more true 3-4 defensive end body type.