Thomas is staying with Birds

The free-agent defensive end is thrilled with his new five-year deal.

Juqua Thomas didn't want to go anywhere. He didn't want to test the free-agent market. He didn't need to see who would pay him what kind of salary. He didn't want to start over.

The 28-year-old Thomas wanted to remain with the Eagles. And so yesterday morning, on the first day of free agency, the defensive end did just that.

Financial details of the deal were unavailable, but Thomas signed a five-year contract that will keep him in Philadelphia through the 2011 season. He was thrilled.

"I just love the organization, just proud to be with them, man," Thomas said before leaving on a camping trip in Texas with his family. "I enjoy playing there. I feel comfortable playing there, so it doesn't make any sense to go anywhere else."

Thomas's agent, Kennard McGuire, did not return a telephone message.

A rookie free agent out of Oklahoma State in 2001, Thomas played his first four seasons with the Tennessee Titans before signing with the Eagles during training camp in 2005. Although Thomas didn't have much impact, the Eagles brought him back for last season, signing him to a one-year contract for the veteran minimum.

Thomas had a standout training camp and preseason, and after Jevon Kearse suffered a season-ending knee injury during Week 2 of the season, Thomas saw his playing time increase. By the end of the season, he was playing more than starter Darren Howard, whose production fell off, and finished with career highs in tackles (47) and sacks (six); Thomas also had five tackles and 11/2 sacks in two playoff games.

With Kearse's rehabilitation going well, it is expected that Kearse and Howard will open the 2007 season as the Eagles' starting ends, with Trent Cole and Thomas seeing a significant number of snaps. By keeping Thomas, the Eagles maintained their depth at end, depth they desperately needed last season.

"We're always looking to strengthen our offensive and defensive lines, and Juqua gives us a lot of options along the defensive line," general manager Tom Heckert said in a statement. "He can play either side and even has the ability to play as a stand-up end on certain situations in Jim Johnson's scheme. He has done a real solid job over the last two years, and we're happy to have him continue his career in Philadelphia."

Thomas brushed off questions about playing time and how the Eagles could best use him. He simply was happy to remain in a locker room where he feels comfortable and in a system he said fit his playing style.

"I'm just happy to be here," Thomas said. "I'm ready to do whatever they need me to do. . . . Just playing-wise, just knowing the scheme, doing everything, it makes it easy for me. I could play in this type of scheme. That's what made it a big decision for me."

Last week, the defensive end talent pool in free agency was diluted. Indianapolis used its franchise-player tag to keep Dwight Freeney, expected to be the plum player on the free-agent market. Cincinnati tagged Justin Smith, and New Orleans tagged Charles Grant. Each will make $8,644,000 in 2007.

With teams having few talented options available, it's possible Thomas could have garnered a sizable salary and signing bonus, but money wasn't his motivating factor.

"The entire time this was my focus, coming back to Philly," Thomas said. "I was comfortable there. I love the coaches. I love the organization. That's what I was focusing on. . . . The other teams weren't talking about much. I just have to go where I'm comfortable. I can't just pick up and move. And they liked me, man, so we got the job done."

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

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