What can the Carolina Panthers expect from Ian Thomas in 2022?

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

What can the Carolina Panthers expect from Ian Thomas in 2022 after they gave the tight e new three-year extension this offseason?

Considering how much Ian Thomas failed to make an impression over the last two years when thrust into a prominent role, it was hard to look at his long-term future with any sort of confidence. The Carolina Panthers had the option of letting the tight end walk in free agency, which nobody would have minded given how little he’s affected the passing game since Greg Olsen left in 2020 free agency for the Seattle Seahawks.

Instead, the Panthers opted to keep Thomas around on a three-year, $16.95 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus and $8 million guaranteed. More importantly, there is no realistic out until 2024, giving the former fourth-round pick two more years to prove himself as a starting-caliber player at the position.

This came as a surprise to many. But it’s also worth remembering that Thomas has evolved positively from a blocking standpoint and does have the athletic attributes to be a real force if everything comes together.

The influence of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo regarding personnel moves this offseason is something else that cannot be overlooked. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the former New York Giants head coach clearly feels that his scheme will be well suited to Thomas and he is renowned for utilizing tight ends heavily over short-to-intermediate routes.

Thomas will have a fight on his hands with progressive second-year-pro Tommy Tremble for playing time. But the Panthers did not invest this money in the Indiana product for him to sit on the sidelines.

Just what the Panthers can expect from Thomas is unclear. He looked like a star in the making as a rookie, bringing in 73.5 percent of balls thrown his way en route to 333 receiving yards and two touchdowns, but things haven’t quite gone according to plan since and next season is a crossroads for the player.

If Thomas can improve dramatically and make targets count, then this will be a significant boost to a passing attack that still possesses a lot of talent. He will also be tasked with creating lanes in the running game, which will aid the likes of Christian McCaffrey, D’Onta Foreman, and Chuba Hubbard for good measure.

Carolina Panthers are expecting bigger things from Ian Thomas in 2022

Realistically speaking, this could go either way for Thomas.

Should he fail to meet expectations once again, then the decision to keep him around will be criticized heavily.

However, if production improves and he becomes increasingly influential, then it could end up being a potential bargain considering how other tight ends were paid during free agency.

The line is fine for Thomas. And there appears to be no margin for error anymore.

Thomas has the right athletic gifts. That’s never been in question.

Consistency is key for Thomas. If he can earn McAdoo’s trust, then there will be a tremendous opportunity awaiting the player within a system that seems tailormade for his talents.

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Perhaps replicating what Olsen brought to the Panthers was never an attainable feat for Thomas. But that doesn’t mean he cannot play a meaningful role in 2022 and possibly beyond if everything goes as or better than expected.