Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 May 2010

Zach Thomas Retires

Middle linebacker Zach Thomas retired yesterday. He signed a contract with the Dolphins in order to retire as their player.

Does Thomas merit Hall of Fame consideration? He was a five time first-team All-Pro...

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 21 May 2010

49 comments, Last at 16 Jun 2010, 11:35am by bachslunch


by TayloreatsBrady (not verified) :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 10:29am

Hell yes Zach Thomas is a Hall-of-Famer!

7 Pro Bowls
5 First Team All-Pro
2 Second Team All-Pro

1106 Tackles in 12 years.

Compare that to Ray Lewis (also drafted in 1996)
11 Pro Bowls
7 First Team All-Pro

1349 Tackles in 13 years.

by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 11:06am

7 time all-pro... that's very, very impressive. The problem is, the public impression, even if likely wrong, is that he rarely deserved any of those awards. I say likely wrong because if there's one thing I trust in football, it's the all-pro teams.

by Mr Shush :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 10:49pm

All pro teams are far better indicators than pro bowl appearances (and not just because they're harder to get). That doesn't mean they can't be wrong (just ask Mike Scifres). I didn't see enough of Thomas in his prime to have a strong view on him specifically, but essentially you make the right point: any player who is first team all pro five times at an offensive or defensive position other than fullback belongs in the Hall if those awards were deserved. Failure to select such a player, to my mind, would constitute an active and determined statement that the all pro voters of the time were persistently mistaken.

by Dean :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 10:31am

Consideration? Absolutely.

Will/should he get in? Lets sit back and reflect for 5 years and see if his star still shines as brightly in 2015 as it does now.

I would like to see it happen, but we frequently give out the "Hall of Famer" tag to those who don't necessarily deserve it. 5 years will give us some perspective.

by Temo :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 10:46am

He may have retired yesterday, but he's been a corpse for 2 years now.

by TayloreatsBrady (not verified) :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 11:04am

He didn't play in 2009. He played in all 16 games and had 65 tackles in 2008. No reason to be a lying dick.

by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 11:07am

Yeah, well, thanks for the lukewarm defense

by Temo :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 3:44pm

He was awful in 2008. Awful.

That doesn't take away from his career.

by MJK :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 11:36am

Consideration, yes.

But I don't think he'll get in. First off, he never was on a SB-winning team. And I know that shouldn't matter, but, unfortunately, it seems to matter a great deal to the voters.

Secondly, LB's face an uphill climb anyway. I think folks do realize that gaudy tackle numbers are par for the course for LB's, especially MLB's. His sack totals aren't super flashy, which isn't surprising for a MLB, but it's something that voters look for (and another reason why LB's face an uphill battle for the Hall).

Personally, I think he probably deserves to get in, if not first ballot, then eventually. But whether he will or not, I can't say. Andre Tippett almost didn't make it in...

by johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 1:59pm

I agree. The Dolphins never did anything in the playoffs in his best years. Between him and JT I'm guess there is going to be only one HoF selection and JT was slightly better for longer. I think the voters won't put both in.

by Bobman :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 5:21pm

I think you are probably right, but what makes this line of thought particularly interesting to me is... they're brothers-in-law, aren't they?

Could be some glum family gatherings if one keeps getting turned down and the other gets in. Heck, maybe not.

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 5:12pm

Randy Gradishar still hasn't made it in, and he averaged something crazy like 80% more tackles per game than Ray Lewis.

by Shattenjager :: Sun, 05/23/2010 - 12:07pm

~103% more tackles per game, actually. However, it should be noted that in addition to that total being unofficial according to the league, the Broncos have a reputation (whether deserved or not) for inflating their tackle totals.

by tuluse :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 7:13pm

First off, he never was on a SB-winning team.

This isn't that important for non-QBs.

by Yaguar :: Sat, 05/22/2010 - 5:52pm

It shouldn't be that important for anyone.

by tuluse :: Sat, 05/22/2010 - 6:56pm

Deserves got nothing to do with it.

~Bill Munny

by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 12:28pm

I don't think he gets in, not that he isn't deserving. On some level, it winds up being the Hall of "Fame", not just Hall of "Excellence", and Thomas was never particularly flashy or memorable, just very, very solid. I think in five-six-seven years or so, people aren't really going to remember him that vividly, and that's going to hurt him. Lots of people will have good numbers at that point. As for LBs from this decade, Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks are pretty much undoubtedly the first two in the pike, so he's going to have to get in after them.

by Lance :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 1:26pm

At least you didn't drop the "Hall of Very Good" line. It seems like every HoF discussion on FB has it mentioned at least once in an attempt at legitimate discussion...

by Matt Bowyer :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 2:31pm

Was he ever the type of LB who could take over a game? I remember seeing those games from Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks. Was that the type of linebacker Thomas was?

by Dice :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 2:49pm

Chris Hanburger was a 9 time Pro Bowler, 4 time first team All-Pro, 2 time second team All-Pro, 8 time first team All Conference, and 1972 NFC Defensive Player of the Year(I don't know who awarded the All Conference and conference DPOY selections, for whatever those are worth). He doesn't seem to even merit consideration, and me and a buddy(not a 'skins fan, but remembers Hanburger playing and loved him) emailed Peter King, asking about the Hangman and the HOF, even got a reply saying he'd try and address that in his column, but never got around to it, unless we missed it.

I'm sure another Hangman for the HOF advocate will make a better point than I can, but the awards, the lack of a championship, look on the surface very similar to Thomas, and he(Thomas) has the benefit of sack/tackle records. I don't see either realistically making it in.

by bachslunch :: Wed, 06/16/2010 - 11:06am

I too think Chris Hanburger belongs in the HoF, but that's equally true of Chuck Howley, Maxie Baughan, Robert Brazile, Joe Fortunato, and Larry Grantham, among others. Outside LBs are criminally under-represented in the HoF from this time period, but Hanburger's not alone.

With Zach Thomas, the situation is a bit different. To deny Thomas, one would have to be ultra-selective at this position, and that just hasn't been the election history here despite a tendency for LBs to get short shrift. He's behind Ray Lewis, Junior Seau, and Derrick Brooks from this time period, and about on a par with Brian Urlacher in terms of postseason honors recognition. Voting history suggests there will be more than three LBs in the HoF from the 90s-00s. That doesn't mean Thomas won't wait a while, of course.

It's not as direct a comparison as it seems here.

by James-London :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 4:17pm

Dolphins Fan, so I'm not exactly objective here, but:

Zach Thomas should make the Hall, albeit not on 1st ballot. The posters above have his biggest two problems nailed; no Superbowl, no conference championships and no 'flashy' stats. Being the 3rd best LB of his time behind Brooks & Lewis should be an accolade, but will probably be a hinderance.

A decade of quiet excellence, (and he was excellent), should be more than enough. He could tackle, play the run, play really good coverage, and he was an effective blitzer when asked. What more do you want from an MLB? Sadly, "flash" appears to be more of a requirement than understated "great".

The Miami D of the early part of the decade had two strong HoF candidates (Taylor & Thomas), the best pair of corners of the time (Surtain & Madison), and a host of very good supporting players (Bowens, Chester, Ogunleye, Brock Marion) and they still couldn't make an impact (or even qualify for) the playoffs.

God, that offense was horrible.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Dean :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 4:34pm

Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor might dispute your assessment of their corners.

by Joseph :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 4:49pm

I think he SHOULD make the Hall. Whether he will or not is debatable.
Having said that, as other posters have said, Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks should both be in, and should be first-ballot material. (Only problem is, a lot of guys retiring right now seem to fit that description--Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Willie Roaf, Marvin Harrison, and D. Brooks, to name a few.) I think ZT has a reasonable chance, but will have to wait a few turns.

by RickD :: Sat, 05/22/2010 - 2:00am

The HoF needs to increase its intake rate. It's become a logjam (as opposed to baseball).

by tuluse :: Sat, 05/22/2010 - 3:14am

Agreed. How many HOF players does the average draft produce? Clearly it's more than the 6 they let in.

by Theo :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 5:37pm

Internet was not that huge during his prime, so he'll be a late considerate.

by justanothersteve :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 6:32pm

Very good, yes. HoF, I don't think so. Look at the MLBs currently in the HoF. Butkus, Lambert, Nitschke. They could dominate a game. I've seen dominant games from Lewis and Urlacher. I never saw Thomas dominate. If the Dolphins have a team HoF, he belongs in that. But I don't think he belongs in Canton. Then again, I don't think Art Monk belongs and he got in.

by tuluse :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 7:23pm

Willie Lanier, Nick Buoniconti, Sam Huff, Harry Carson, Bill George, and Mike Singletary are also in the HOF.

by TayloreatsBrady (not verified) :: Sat, 05/22/2010 - 9:15am

Steve, that is such a weak argument. You never saw Zach Thomas "dominate"? Really? That's what you're gonna go with? I saw him dominate. I saw him crush RBs on plenty of 3rd and 4th downs. I saw him go sideline-to-sideline, shedding blockers and tackling everything that came his way.

Zach Thomas was a beast. He was never mic'ed up to spew cliches(Ray Lewis) he didn't have scary eyes (Singletary), and didn't do stupid commercials (Urlacher). He dominated. Maybe you should have watched more games and paid attention to his actual play instead of being swept up in the ancillary crap that has nothing to do with football.

by TayloreatsBrady (not verified) :: Sat, 05/22/2010 - 9:17am

Steve, that is such a weak argument. You never saw Zach Thomas "dominate"? Really? That's what you're gonna go with? I saw him dominate. I saw him crush RBs on plenty of 3rd and 4th downs. I saw him go sideline-to-sideline, shedding blockers and tackling everything that came his way.

Zach Thomas was a beast. He was never mic'ed up to spew cliches(Ray Lewis) he didn't have scary eyes (Singletary), and didn't do stupid commercials (Urlacher). He dominated. Maybe you should have watched more games and paid attention to his actual play instead of being swept up in the ancillary crap that has nothing to do with football.

by andrew :: Fri, 05/21/2010 - 7:39pm

Zach Thomas gave a a great interview on the local espn station.


1 - he doesn't blame Jason Taylor for going to the Jets, and hopes he has a career year.
2 - despite this he also hopes the Jets go 0-16.
3 - He would disown his son if he wore a 95 Jets Jason Taylor Jersey. Keep in mind Jason Taylor is Zach Thomas' brother in law, so therefore his son's uncle.
4 - He considers Tim Bowens the most underrated player on the Dolphins defense during his time there.

by RickD :: Sat, 05/22/2010 - 1:59am

Hall of Fame? No.

There are better LBs still waiting to get in.

I never thought to myself "Oh no, Zach Thomas is coming to town!" Not like Jason Taylor or Ray Lewis or Patrick Willis or...well, a lot of players. I usually thought "he's scrappy, but he's not that large so if the offense does what they should, somebody will block him". I tend to think he racked up stats against weaker teams.

We can revisit the issue after Gradishar and Seau are inducted.

by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 05/22/2010 - 11:57am

I guess offenses very rarely did what they should, then. Like a poster above mentions, the guy was a beast who did everything well, he hit hard, was a great tackler, good in coverage, a sneaky pass-rusher, very smart, ran the defense, and played with an enormous heart. What he didn't have was the flash -which I'll describe as athleticism (including body build). He didn't make the spectacular play, except for the jarring hits, but he consistently made plays all over the field. He absolutely didn't just "rack up stats against weaker teams." That makes it sound as if most of his tackles happened 10 yards downfield, not like he was the leader of one of the leagues best defenses for many years.

Maybe you weren't concerned about Zach when he came town, but I'm sure your team's players and coaches were.

by Independent George :: Mon, 05/24/2010 - 9:28am

Zach Thomas' career actually reminds me of Ray Lewis. At their prime, they were absolute terrors, and deserved the reputation they got. However, they also both suffered significant injury-driven physical declines soon after. They largely made up for it with smarts & leadership - they remained good to very good, but never again great - and coasted to pro bowls largely on the strength of reputation. Lewis at his peak was far above Thomas, and stayed there a bit longer, but the general career trajectory was about the same.

I didn't have as much opportunity to see Seau play, but his peak seemed to last a lot longer than the others. However, I think he also played on some significantly worse teams, which meant his defense was often on the field a lot longer and he was given more opportunity to make plays. Is this a fair assessment?

by RickD :: Mon, 05/24/2010 - 2:21pm

I watched Thomas play the Pats twice a year. I never saw him have the kind of game that Jason Taylor did pretty much every time they played. Taylor would absolutely embarrass whoever was trying to block him (usually Matt Light).

I don't think his peak lasted as long as Seau's or Lewis's, and I don't think it was as high. Could he be a Hall of Famer? Well Harry Carson's in, and that's about the Zach Thomas level. But it took him 18 years to get inducted.

It's not like I would be upset if Thomas were inducted, I just think he's a notch below Lewis, Seau, and Brooks. (We can save the Urlacher discussion for another day...I just didn't see him play enough.)

I guess my problem is that I see "enormous heart" as code for "not really all that talented", (while "intelligent" is usually code for "white").

Did Thomas have a better career than any of the Pats' linebackers of the same era? Absolutely, but there are a lot of LBs in the NFL, and most of them don't make the Hall of Fame. (Only 19 so far.)

Thomas will probably get in at some point.

(BTW, 'sneaky pass rusher'? So sneaky he got 20.5 sacks in 13 years, less than 2 sacks per year. This is my problem - the suspicion that Thomas has been overrated for a long time. Junior Seau had more sacks at the age of 38 (3.5) than Thomas had in any single season.)

by bachslunch :: Wed, 06/16/2010 - 11:14am

RickD said: "There are better LBs still waiting to get in."

I'm not at all sold on this argument. Just because Randy Gradishar isn't in the HoF doesn't mean Zach Thomas shouldn't be, either. It can just as easily mean that both should be in, that electing Thomas makes Gradishar's exclusion more inexcusable and thus more impetus to get Gradishar in. And I do think Gradishar belongs in the HoF.

But holding out everyone else until one's favorite snub gets elected helps nobody's HoF case.

Besides, Junior Seau likely hasn't even retired yet -- and he'll surely get in within his first couple years of eligibility. Why should anyone have to wait to be elected to the HoF before a still-active player becomes eligible?

by Houle (not verified) :: Sun, 05/23/2010 - 12:38pm

I don't think Lewis and brooks are the right comps for Thomas. He's on the next ladder down with seau, bruschi, and urlacher.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Sun, 05/23/2010 - 4:17pm

Seau is a 7 time first team All Pro, 2 time 2nd team, 12 time probowler.

Zach Thomas, Tedi Bruschi, and Brian Urlacher aren't fit to carry his jock.

by tuluse :: Sun, 05/23/2010 - 5:44pm

In 8 full seasons playing, Urlacher has 6 probowls and 4 all pro teams. If he makes 4 more probowl and another all pro (which is what Seau did from the same point in their careers), he won't be far off.

by RickD :: Mon, 05/24/2010 - 2:29pm

With Patrick Willis the reigning MLB in the NFC, it's hard to see Urlacher getting a Pro Bowl start or All-Pro status anytime soon. And he's really not the player he was even just three years ago. Well, we'll see how he recovers from the latest injury.

by tuluse :: Mon, 05/24/2010 - 3:09pm

It's not likely, but it's not impossible either.

by Dean :: Mon, 05/24/2010 - 9:37am

How is Bruschi even in this conversation?

That's like talking about Hall of Fame wide receivers and mentioning John Jefferson.

by RickD :: Mon, 05/24/2010 - 2:23pm

That's what I was wondering - and I'm a Pats fan!

Mind you, Bruschi was a good solid LB for a long time, but he's nowhere near the level of the other players mentioned.

by Dean :: Tue, 05/25/2010 - 1:21pm

That sounds like a very fair assesment of his abilities to me.

Some further thoughts on Zach Thomas:

The following linebackers are NOT in the Hall of Fame:

Cornelius Bennett, Matt Blair, Kevin Greene, Ken Harvey, Rickey Jackson, Rod Martin, Clay Matthews, Karl Mecklenberg, Sam Mills, Hardy Nickerson, Chris Spielman, Pat Swilling, Darryl Talley

Jackson, Matthews, Mecklenberg, and Mills all belong, but it isn’t necessarily any great tragedy that they’re not yet in. This sounds about where Zach Thomas belongs in the pantheon of LBs. Maybe even a small shade below these guys. So he’s a very borderline candidate. He’s not a clear “no” that would cheapen The Hall by putting him in, like Bob Hayes or Art Monk, but he’s a guy who will have a long wait. He might be a old-timers candidate in 30 years.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 05/27/2010 - 11:47pm

Jackson actually is in the HOF, but you left off Chris Hanburger.

by bachslunch :: Wed, 06/16/2010 - 11:35am

Not a good argument if one uses postseason honors as a yardstick here. Here are the numbers regarding all but Jackson, who is in the HoF and not part of this discussion (1st team AP/pro bowls/all decade teams):

Cornelius Bennett: 1/5/90s
Matt Blair: 1/6/none
Kevin Greene: 2/5/90s
Ken Harvey: 0/4/none
Rod Martin: 1/2/none
Clay Matthews: 0/4/none
Karl Mecklenburg: 3/6/none
Sam Mills: 1/5/none
Hardy Nickerson: 2/5/90s
Chris Spielman: 1/4/none
Pat Swilling: 2/5/none
Darryl Talley: 0/2/none

and you could even add

Charles Haley: 2/5/none
Wilber Marshall: 2/3/none
Greg Lloyd: 3/5/none
Levon Kirkland: 1/2/90s

and now

Zach Thomas: 5/7/00s

Sorry, but Thomas has a solid leg up on all these folks.

by foolio (not verified) :: Mon, 05/31/2010 - 9:16am

This site should be renamed FootballPatriotsOutsiders. Bruschi is being compared as equivalent to Zach Thomas? Are you joking? A seven time Pro Bowler and five time first team All-Pro, versus a two time Pro Bowler and one time second team All Pro?

p.s. Bruschi made the Pro Bowl and All Pro for the first time in 2004. Think the hype from the Pats winning three Superbowls had anything at all to do with that?

And Zach Thomas "inflated his tackle stats against weaker teams?" Care to justify that moronic assertion? Because I think you don't have a shred of evidence to do so.

And Adalius Thomas was a much better FA signing than Joey Porter, wasn't he, FootballPatriotOutsiders? Still haven't forgotten that corker.

by bachslunch :: Tue, 06/15/2010 - 2:58pm

Zach Thomas at present would appear to have the best case of the second-crust LBs of the time when looking at 1st team all-pro, pro bowl, and all decade team numbers. The top three would appear to be Ray Lewis at 7(7AP)/11/00s, Derrick Brooks at 5(5AP)/11/00s, and Junior Seau at 8(6AP)/12/90s. Thomas is at 5(5AP)/7/00s, and Brian Urlacher is still active with numbers of 4(4AP)/6/00s.

I think Thomas will get in, but wait a while. Same for Urlacher.