Undrafted out of Southern Arkansas in 2011, Cedric Thornton battled his way from the practice squad to become an integral member of the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line.
Now he's cashing in.
Thornton and the Dallas Cowboys agreed to a four-year, $18 million contract Thursday, which should give him the opportunity to thrive with more snaps. The Cowboys confirmed the signing on Twitter by welcoming him to Dallas. Earlier in the afternoon, both Ian Rapoport and Rand Getlin of the NFL Network reported on the terms of the agreement.
Getlin reported the contract includes $6 million in fully guaranteed money and $9 million in total guaranteed money.
The 27-year-old made 33 tackles and one sack in 13 games last season, numbers that represent marked stepdowns from 2013 and 2014.
Six different Eagles defensive linemen received at least a quarter of the snaps in 2015, per Football Outsiders. Thornton was on the field for 40.6 percent of the team's snaps, third-highest on the line, but that was a step down of nearly 15 percent from 2014. Couple that with Thornton's missing three games because of injury, and it's easy to see why his counting stats took a step back.
While the Eagles deserve credit for unearthing Thornton, it's clear he was excited to test the market. Thornton seemed intent on extracting his maximum possible contract when meeting with reporters at the end of the season.
“That’s not something that I’m worried about," Thornton said of a return, per Dave Zangaro of CSN Philly. "I put the film out there. I feel like the other [31 teams in the league], I think they’ve seen it. We’ll see whatever my value is. If Philadelphia wants to keep me here, if Philadelphia wants me to be here, then I’ll be here.”
Now he'll face the Eagles twice a year as a member of the Cowboys.
It's hard to blame Thornton for wanting to cash in now. He turns 28 in June. Given the relative pittance he's made so far in his NFL career ($4.18 million), he's not in a position to take less. Thornton may only get one opportunity to actually cash in. The next time he's available for teams will be after his 30th birthday unless things go disastrously next season. And in the worst-case scenario, there's no way Thornton would be able to recoup the money lost by giving a hometown discount.
Sports Illustrated's Greg A. Bedard already ranked Thornton the 69th-best free agent on the market. With any more of a downturn, Thornton was looking at a series of low-end, one-year deals. It's best for him to just cash in now and hope he returns to form in 2016.