The cutting of Zach Thomas took the Dolphins' long-overdue rebuilding effort to a new level. Much of the national and South Florida media has been heaping praise on the 12-year veteran; espn.com's article began by noting that Thomas has more tackles than any linebacker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame"; Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote titled his blog entry "Farewell to a Dolphins Great"; Dave George of the Palm Beach Post called him "A Texas tornado from the day he arrived in training camp."
Am I the only one who thinks the undersized linebacker is a little overrated? Thomas was very productive in his Miami career and certainly meant a lot to the franchise, but, unlike the current and future Hall of Famers he's often compared to, he's not somebody who was capable of taking over a game. Consider, for example, his teammate Jason Taylor. Among his many achievements, he single-handedly decimated the Bears in a 2006 game; Thomas never played at that level. Zach Thomas might have been a great player for his size, but last I checked there was no rule that each team had to have one undersized guy on the field at all times. Zach was not big enough to fight off blocks himself and, while he could be very effective if a big D-line (guys like Daryl Gardner and Tim Bowens in the 1990s) could free him up, he could be also neutralized by a strong O-lineman, as Kevin Mawae of the Jets did to him in a crucial 1998 contest. In other words, he was a very effective "system linebacker," but (unlike Taylor) he was not a force of nature on the field.
Thomas was a very good player for a long time, and his career - from undersized fifth-round pick to seven-time Pro Bowler - is a great story. But it's possible to be a great story and merely a very good player.