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Zach Thomas Stays With Dolphins

February 12, 1999

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) _ Zach Thomas, who shared an apartment with a teammate during his first three NFL seasons, is eager to move out.

He’s not leaving town, though. Rather than test the market as an unrestricted free agent, Thomas signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract to remain with the Miami Dolphins.

``I want to get me a house and a big backyard with some dogs,″ the All-Pro middle linebacker said Friday. ``I want a Great Dane and maybe a Rottweiler.″

Even after buying big dogs and a big house, Thomas will likely have money left over thanks to a $4.5 million signing bonus. His base salaries will be $2 million this year, $3 million in 2000, $3.75 million in 2001, $4.25 million in 2002 and $5 million in 2003.

Those are staggering sums for the high-intensity, low-ego throwback from small-town Texas who wears T-shirts and blue jeans to work.

``You’re always concerned about giving big bonuses and a big contract to a player,″ coach Jimmy Johnson said. ``But with Zach, you’re never going to be concerned about that because you know that every day, he’s going to give 100 percent. He’ll always make you proud.″

Thomas, 25, said the new contract will allow him to hire a personal trainer to improve his flexibility. He also wants to a buy a projector to watch game film at home.

His average salary of $4.5 million per year falls shy of Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ $6.5 million. But it’s a big raise over the $238,000 Thomas made in 1998, and close to the $5 million per year sought by his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

Thomas’ roommate of the past three years, linebacker Larry Izzo, will soon be on his own.

``He’s the only guy not happy about this,″ Rosenhaus joked. ``He’s got to find a new roommate.″

At 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, Thomas has long battled the perception that he’s too small to play middle linebacker. He was a fifth-round draft choice out of Texas Tech but quickly won a starting job with the Dolphins.

``There are so many things that made me want to stay,″ Thomas said. ``I love our defensive scheme, and we’re an up-and-coming team. We’re only going to get better.

``I thank coach Johnson for taking another chance on me. He took one on me when I was a rookie, and I made him happy. I’m hoping to make him happy now.″

Thomas has been the Dolphins’ leading tackler in each of his three NFL seasons. He became All-Pro last year, anchoring a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league.

And now he’s a millionaire.

``I’m going to take the check to the bank,″ he said, ``and come back and work out.″

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