Thomas Jones-RB-Free Agent 2004:Jerry Angelo arrived in Chicago just months after his predecessor Mark Hatley made Michigan running back Anthony Thomas the team’s second-round pick. Despite Thomas leading the Bears’ offense that year and becoming the team’s first Offensive Rookie of the Year since Gale Sayers, Angelo stated after the season that he didn’t believe Thomas was a franchise running back. (Obviously this was a statement that didn’t sit well with Thomas).
Thomas had an injury-plagued sophomore season, then rebounded a bit in 2003. But with the arrival of Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Terry Shea, who was installing an offense similiar to that run by Mike Martz in St. Louis and Al Saunders in Kansas City, Angelo went shopping for a Marshall Faulk or Priest Holmes (the backs that enjoyed success in the aforementioned cities). Luckily for the Bears, Jones was coming off a season that had resurrected his career. Jones was a top-ten draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2000 but never distinguished himself. He had been traded to Tampa in 2003 for a song, and burst out with speed and power in limited duty with tthe Buccaneers.
Thus on the first day of free agency the Bears pitched heavy for Jones and signed him to a four-year contract to replace Thomas as the starter. Jones did not disappoint in his first season with the Bears. Despite missing several games with injuries, Jones totaled more combined yards by any running back in Chicago since Neal Anderson. In 2005 and 2006 he was the workhorse behind the Bears’ offense. His speed was obviously down from what it was earlier in his career, but his strength was up.
The only problem in Jones’ Bears tenure was that curiously, Angelo decided to draft troubled Texas running back Cedric Benson with the fourth overall pick in 2005, ostensibly because new offensive coordinator Ron Turner demanded a bigger workhorse back in his system. Benson and Jones shared time in the backfield for two seasons, but did not share any camaraderie. Following the 2006 season in which the Bears went to the Super Bowl and Jones rushed for 1,210 yards, the Bears determined it was time for Benson to have the job to himself. Jones was traded to the New York Jets in exchange for flip-flopping second-round picks in the 2007 draft. (A move that netted the Bears nothing, since those picks resulted in Chicago drafting Dan Bazuin and Michael Okwo, two players that never played a down). And Benson failed in his one year as the starter before being cut.