De’Anthony Thomas’ season with the Chiefs has officially come to an end.
On Thursday, the team placed Thomas on the reserve/non-football injury or illness list, effectively ending his 2015 season. Per NFL rules, players placed on the reserve/NFI list cannot return to action for the duration of the season, including the playoffs.
Teams are also under no obligation to pay players placed on the list, but any amount they do pay them does count against the salary cap.
The move — which opens up a spot on the Chiefs’ 53-man roster — brings a short-term end to the curious saga surrounding Thomas, an elusive second-year pro who has made an impact as an offensive specialist and kick- and punt-returner since his selection in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
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Thomas has missed the last five games since suffering a concussion in the Chiefs’ 33-3 win over the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 22, and the team said he missed the first four because of a concussion. Thomas was ruled out of the last one — a 17-13 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns — for what the club called “a non-football-related reason.”
The Chiefs made the announcement that Thomas would not play a day before that game, which was notable because he was a full participant in practice all week and was listed as “probable” on the team’s final injury report on Friday. The NFL defines the “probable” designation as a “virtual certainty” the player will be able to play.
Thomas’ agent, Jerome Stanley, told The Star over the weekend that Thomas and the Chiefs collectively decided it was simply wiser to give him a full week to return to the field before seeing any game action, and that the timing of Thomas’ clearance from the league’s concussion protocol did not allow that for Sunday’s game.
Stanley also said he expected Thomas to be ready to go starting Monday, but Thomas did not return to practice this week, adding another laying of mystery to the situation.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid explained after the game that Thomas was dealing with “some personal issues that he’s working through,” and on Wednesday, Reid said general manager John Dorsey is handling the situation. When asked if Thomas was at the Chiefs’ practice facility on Wednesday, Reid responded that he didn’t “know exactly where he is.”
Thomas’ loss gives the Chiefs one less option on punt returns, where he ranked 39th in the league at 7.8 yards per return. Thomas’ replacement, Frankie Hammond, ranks 32nd at 8.5 yards per return, but while both have fumbled twice, Hammond has done so with 18 fewer returns (11).
Still, special-teams coach Dave Toub voiced support for Hammond on Thursday, although receivers Jeremy Maclin and Albert Wilson are waiting in the wings.
“We keep developing Frankie,” Toub said. “Frankie’s getting more and more confidence and he’s been close (to breaking one).”
Toub noted that Hammond had a 58-yard return against the Chargers on Dec. 13 wiped off the board because of an illegal block.
“He had a nice, long return on that one that we had called back a few weeks back,” Toub said. “He’s getting better and better each week and we just keep working him. And the more games and the more catches that he gets, he’s going to crack one here pretty soon.”
Thomas also served as the Chiefs’ primary kick returner for two games prior to the concussion, ranking 58th in the league with a 23-yard average on six returns. But Knile Davis — who started the season with the job — has retaken the position over the last five games and is averaging 25.1 yards per return, which is 38th in the league.
The Chiefs, who are 10-5 and winners of nine straight entering their regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, will also have to replace Thomas on offense going forward. Thomas has carved out a unique role as a hybrid slot receiver/running back, someone who plays a unique role in the college-style “packaged” plays — which give quarterback Alex Smith a run-pass option — that Reid has enjoyed mixing in the last few years.
This season, Thomas caught 17 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown and rushed nine times for 34 yards and a TD while regularly giving defenses a different look. But in Thomas’ absence, No. 2 receiver Wilson has taken over some of those duties, particularly on the jet sweeps Reid has grown fond of calling. Over the last five games, Wilson has rushed five times for 26 yards after failing to log a single carry over the first 10 games.