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Farewell Julius Thomas: Signing with the Jaguars Is a Disappearing Act

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMarch 10, 2015

Jack Dempsey/AP Images

Julius Thomas falls down a well.     

Julius Thomas enters the Witness Relocation Program.

Julius Thomas disappears into a Tibetan monastery in search of enlightenment.

Julius Thomas signs on as a guest star for the final episodes of Glee.

Julius Thomas reportedly agrees to a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Try getting excited about Julius Thomas signing with the Jaguars. Muster all of the enthusiasm you can. Approach the deal from every possible angle. Stoke it a little to see if it sparks. Do your best to cook up even a lukewarm midday sports-talk take:

Does Thomas make the Jaguars a playoff team? No.

Does Thomas make you want to rush out and purchase Jaguars season tickets? If you weren't inclined to purchase Jaguars season tickets before, a new tight end isn't going to change your plans.

Will Thomas help Blake Bortles develop into a franchise quarterback? There's a hundred miles of uphill hiking between Blake Bortles and the peak of franchise quarterback-dom. Thomas is a compass and a bag of trail mix.

Will Thomas help your fantasy team? Not nearly as much as he did last year, at least until he got hurt right before your playoffs.

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Is Thomas better than Marcedes Lewis? Well, yes, particularly since Lewis has not been consistently healthy for two years. Jaguars Acquire Upgrade over Marcedes Lewis is not a very good headline, though it is a very Jaguars headline.

Hearing that Thomas is going to Jacksonville is like learning that a well-liked neighbor is moving to Iceland. There's a feeling that you will never see him again, but also that you never even got to know him quite well enough to truly miss him. You don't feel sad, just a dull ambivalence. Bon voyage, Juilus Thomas, best of the non-Gronkowski, non-Graham tight ends.

Gary McCullough/Associated Press

I truly want to get excited about Thomas in Jacksonville, because I think he can be a factor. The Jaguars receiving corps has the potential to be great with him on board. Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson combined for 136 catches, 1,647 yards and nine receiving touchdowns last year as rookies playing with a rookie quarterback. All three are under the age of 25. Lee and Robinson were rarely on the field at the same time due to Lee's early-season hamstring injury and Robinson's late-season foot injury.

The three sophomore receivers complement each other well. Robinson is a big possession receiver, Hurns a vertical threat, Lee a route-running smoothie who can line up anywhere. There's also Ace Sanders, who missed much of last season due to a drug suspension but flashed potential in 2013 as an ornery slot receiver. If you believe in Blake Bortles at all—and there are reasons to believe, despite the 17 interceptions and 55 sacks—then you can believe that these receivers will someday be the nucleus of a playoff-caliber passing game.

But Bortles lacked a safety-valve tight end last year. Lewis missed eight games and was of little use in the other eight. Journeyman Clay Harbor was pressed into starting duty for half of the season, with Mickey Shuler's son backing him up.

Enter Julius Thomas, who arrives with the Peyton Manning Seal of Approval. Thomas brings seam-stretching speed and double-move capability; defenses must account for him, which means the sophomores will face easier matchups and Bortles may see easier-to-read coverages. The Jaguars also reportedly are adding former Cowboys tackle Jermey Parnell to an offensive line that bears much responsibility for Bortles' 55 sacks last year, as well as Jared Odrick, who will help the defense fit into the Seahawks costume that has always looked two sizes too big for it. These are sound additions to a team that already has some developing talent.

So why is it so hard to get fired up?

Here are some reasons: Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon, Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, Torry Holt, Toby Gerhart and, of course, Blaine Gabbert. Even when the Jaguars were good, they were a sinkhole for top receiver prospects. More recently, they have been an elephant graveyard for overvalued free agents.

John Raoux/Associated Press

The Jaguars signed the 33-year old Holt long after the Greatest Show on Turf folded the big top, employing him for a year that was so forgettable that you probably forgot it. They talked themselves into paying Robinson $14 million guaranteed after one decent season in Dallas. They convinced themselves last year that plodding journeyman Toby Gerhart deserved a greater role based on his Adrian Peterson relief duty, saddling Bortles with a "featured back" who averaged 3.2 yards per carry in 2014.

The Jaguars also whiffed badly on Gabbert, obviously, and that failure still colors our perception of Bortles. Blackmon and the other troubled receiving prospects keep us from getting our hopes up about Lee, Robinson and Hurns. We have seen a lot of receivers like Cecil Shorts, Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas flash some initial potential, then crash into the hard ceiling of perpetual Jaguars offensive futility.

In summary, the Jaguars could sign Thomas, DeMarco Murray, Randall Cobb and the ghost of Don Coryell as offensive coordinator, and many of us would still be skeptical, because they are the Jaguars. Fourteen wins in four years have a way of evaporating all benefit of the doubt.

Instead of dreaming about what Thomas brings to the Jaguars, we speculate on what will go wrong. Thomas will wilt without Manning throwing to him. Last year's ankle injury was more than it appeared. Thomas' get-in-the-way blocking style will be his undoing. Or Thomas will be fine, but Bortles will go the way of Gabbert, taking all offensive hope with him. It will all happen on Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. ET against the Titans, when most of you will be watching Tom Brady versus Ndamukong Suh on CBS.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

If a tight end's career falters in Jacksonville, does it make a sound?

The Jaguars weren't always a punchline. They were a playoff team eight years ago. They will be a playoff team again. The ownership, management and coaches responsible for the biggest flubs of recent years are gone. They aren't the Browns, lurching from embarrassment to catastrophe. They aren't the Raiders, who can't even get a drink on the casino floor with an armful of chips right now. The Jaguars do everything that successful franchises do: invest wisely, foster stability, build through the draft. At some point, they will gain traction to climb out of this 3-13 ditch.

Thomas is a fine acquisition at a need position. Even if you deflate his value due to the Peyton factor, he's a capable receiving tight end with deep playoff experience. Add a running back from a bountiful draft, and Bortles will have all the weapons a developing quarterback can ask for. The AFC South will remain relatively soft this year, so a little improvement could go a long way.

Maybe this is not goodbye for Julius Thomas. Maybe we will see him in the playoffs again soon. Maybe we will be flipping through satellite channels to see the high-powered Jaguars offense.

It's just hard to hack through all of those "maybes" and find any real enthusiasm right now. Signing with the Jaguars is just too much like disappearing.

That will only make it more thrilling when Thomas helps the Jaguars return to relevance: No one will see them coming.

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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