Does the Carolina Panthers re-signing Ian Thomas make sense?

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Ian Thomas
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Ian Thomas /

The Carolina Panthers re-signed tight end Ian Thomas to a fairly sizable deal to lock him down for the next three years. Why did they do this and does it make sense?

The Carolina Panthers made news again recently locking down their athletic tight end Ian Thomas to a three-year deal with $8 million guaranteed that makes him the second-highest-paid tight end in the NFC South next to Kyle Pitts of the Atlanta Falcons.

Thomas has been a fairly inconsistent player since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, even after being asked to fill a fairly sizeable role with the departure of former all-time great Greg Olsen. Needless to say, he failed to live up to that role in any meaningful way, which has led to some confusion among national writers and the Panthers fanbase as to why this deal was made to prevent him from hitting free agency.

Why did the Carolina Panthers re-sign Ian Thomas?

Well, there is a feeling in the NFL that familiarity within a system is valuable within itself. With another minor roster turnover inevitably happening in the coming months, having pieces that know their role, can tutor others, and be relied on not to make mistakes within the said system is indeed valuable.

On top of this, Thomas does fit the role of a tight end within the Ben McAdoo offense. The new offensive coordinator was likely was a key contributor to getting the Indiana product signed to this extension.

McAdoo offered breakout seasons to similar tight ends in the past in Larry Donnell and Evan Engram, both of whom had their best seasons under the coach and the Panthers will be hoping Thomas flourishes in a similar fashion.

There are also the noted gains he made within the run blocking department. Thomas made a jump from a 51.4 grade in 2020 to 62.6 last year for his run blocking according to Pro Football Focus, which was also reflective on tape when you watched him open up holes on reverses with his athleticism and dig his face into the opponents’ chest on inside runs.

The run game will most certainly be an emphasis of this new offense – Matt Rhule has come out and said as much. Couple this with McAdoo’s offensive history and it connected the dots to the re-signing.

Was it a mistake for the Carolina Panthers to re-sign Ian Thomas?

The raw numbers are less than comforting, as according to Ian Rappaport of the NFL Network, Thomas’ deal is worth $16.5 million with $6.43 million in 2022 and a total of $8 million guaranteed. This puts him right with players like Kyle Rudolph and Cameron Brate with almost none of that same proven production.

While it is not a necessarily huge number by NFL standards, it might have an impact on the Panthers’ ability to sign key pending free agents like Haason Reddick and Stephon Gilmore, who should be a much higher priority than a tight end who may not even start next year over the talented Tommy Tremble.

When you make this kind of a deal with a player with questionable production you are leaving yourself open to a flat-out bust. A one-year, prove-it deal within this offense would have been much more reasonable for Thomas if they did believe he could be an important piece, as there is really no way to know for sure if he will live up to these numbers and expectations.

However, based on how the money is spread, with most guarantees in the first year, one suspects Thomas can be cut in 2023 with little in the way of dead cap implications to speak of.

This also begs the question what do they think of Tremble?

It almost seemed certain that he was going to have an expanded role on a very reasonable rookie deal, and likely could have exploded onto the scene. What was preventing this from happening and getting a much cheaper veteran option to put behind him? Why sign an unproven commodity and force your hand to play him more because of the contract you granted?

In my mind, this contract was a mistake for those reasons. It feels very reactionary at a time when Carolina cannot afford to be.

It leaves one questioning who we will be able to re-sign on the team’s high priority list, and who we can sign in the open market.

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Only time will tell if this deal was good or not. But right now it feels less than justified with the current state of the Panthers.