The 2023 Pro Football Hall of Fame class almost featured not one but two former members of the New England Patriots. Besides cornerback Darrelle Revis, who won a Super Bowl with the organization in 2014, linebacker Zach Thomas also came close to joining the Patriots near the tail-end of his career.
In fact, the team had actually made him an offer back when he was a free agent in 2008. Thomas eventually did not make the move from the Miami Dolphins to their division rivals, as he recalled earlier this week on WQAM’s Hochman & Crowder.
“After I got cut by the Dolphins — [Bill] Parcells told me, ‘You’re 35, linebackers decline after 35’ — just the competitive nature, I wanted to shove it in his face,” Thomas said. “So, I said, ‘Where am I going to go in the division?’ I said, ‘I’m not going to the Jets, hell no. I’m not doing that.’ So I go, ‘OK, let’s visit Bill Belichick.’
“So, I go up to Bill Belichick, the genius himself. I want to learn from him, whatever, and they had that stacked defense. So, I’m sitting across him; Bill in the chair. He said, ‘Zach, we’re going to offer you but I can’t give you No. 54.’ I’m like, ‘Tedy Bruschi’s a legend, I don’t want 54, I want 53.’ That’s Larry Izzo’s number, my best friend at the time. That got a good little smirk out of him.”
Thomas entered the league as a fifth-round draft pick by the Dolphins in 1996, and over the next 12 seasons became one of the best linebackers in football. A five-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection, he appeared in 176 games for the organization.
However, recurring migraines stemming resulting from a concussion limited him to only five games during the 2007 season. The following offseason, incoming head of football operations Bill Parcells informed Thomas that the club would be moving on from him — prompting Thomas to try to go where it would hurt the team the most.
That place was New England, but he pulled out after receiving a contract offer.
“[Belichick] offered me. And I said, ‘Let me think about it,’” Thomas said. “I slept on it and woke up the next morning and said, ‘Hell no, man. I can’t let down the fans because they got my back.’ That was one of those things — I’m getting choked up right now — that come back. They’ve always been good to me, so I thought it was the right move so I went to Dallas. It worked out.”
Thomas ended his career after one season with the Dallas Cowboys and an offseason stint in Kansas City; he retired in 2010 having appeared in a total of 192 games. 23 of those came against the Patriots, but it was ultimately the closest he ever came to sharing a field with the team.