The Miami Dolphins had a pretty good source they leaned on before swinging a trade for tight end Julius Thomas.
Manning threw passes to Thomas with the Denver Broncos. Christensen coached Manning with the Indianapolis Colts. The NFL is a relationship business, you see, and with Manning retired he likely was earnest in his assessment of what Thomas could bring to the Dolphins.
Manning sold Christensen on Thomas’ ability to learn on the fly, which makes sense since he was a fourth-round prospect from Portland State as a former college basketball player. Manning, who helped Thomas come from nowhere to become a weapon, let Christensen know that he had what it took to succeed again.
“That [Thomas] figured it out,” Christensen said. “[Thomas’] figure-it-out factor was high. That’s what you look for. There’s a guy who came in and probably didn’t know a whole bunch about football, or played very little. His experience was very minimal, and then [he] came in and figured it out and then worked.
“[Manning] talked a lot about [Thomas asking], ‘Would you stay out and help me with this? Take me through this. Would you watch a little tape with me? Would you explain what you want on this?’ And he still does the same thing. I’ll see him in Coach [Adam] Gase’s office, and his questions are right. His questions and his process are right, which as a coach, [that’s] you’re looking for.”
Gase also coached Manning with the Broncos, so the connection ran even deeper. Based off the past two seasons, in which an injury-plagued Thomas roundly struggled with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the trade appeared to be a bit of a leap of faith. But with Manning’s endorsement, it gave the Dolphins a little more of a comfort level — from a quarterback’s perspective — as to what they were getting. And during his playing days, Manning was known as extremely detail-oriented and difficult to please.
“I would speak of Peyton as almost coach-ish, especially at that point in his career,” Christensen said. “He goes to people [and asks], ‘How do we want to do this? How do I do this? Is this exactly what you want, or is it different?’ Those are the right questions to be asking.
“[Thomas] has been terrific in the short time he has been here, and it doesn’t take long to see he enjoys football, he likes football, which is the other attribute we’ve been looking for, and guys that enjoy being in the building. He’s a pleasant guy. He has a good demeanor. He has got a smile on his face when he comes to work. That’s good stuff. A lot of times when you go get a free agent — a high-profile free agent — you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s a reach, and all you can go on is second hand. This one, we had the advantage of Coach Gase [and] people knew him, and he has been exactly that.”
Perhaps Manning has a future back in the NFL as a coach or a general manager. For now, though, he appears happy to play the role of armchair scout when it comes to his former teammates.
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