In 2016, star-struck high school football recruit Andrew Thomas met NFL great Trent Williams.
Six years later, Thomas finished second to the seemingly ageless Williams in the NFL’s All-Pro vote.
Is this the season that Thomas surpasses Williams on the field and eventually at the bank?
Could the Giants have the best left tackle in the league by the playoffs?
“Obviously, you want accolades, and you want to be the best, but you don’t get there by worrying about that,” Thomas said when asked about shouldering raised expectations off of his breakthrough Second-Team All-Pro selection. “You get there by working every day to get better, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Clichés aside, leave no room for confusion: Thomas wants to stake a consistent claim as one of the elites at the second-most important position in football.
“I’m a competitor,” Thomas said. “I want to be the best for my team. It’s not just about me, but I do want to be one of the better players in the league.”
The Giants exercised Thomas’ contractual fifth-year option earlier this month and now must consider whether to open extension talks while he is under team control for two more seasons — at discount salary-cap charges of $10.2 million in 2023 and $14.1 million in 2023 — or wait.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” Thomas said of adding another guaranteed year to his contract. “The good thing is I’ll be here at least five years. We haven’t really gotten into anything [negotiating] yet. If it happens, it happens. Right now, I’m just focusing on the first part of the offseason, and the rest will take care of itself.”
If the Giants believe Thomas, 24, is only going to improve, an early extension gets ahead of a rising market and could be structured to provide instant cap relief so that other short-term measures with dead-cap ramifications are not needed.
Thomas is a perfectionist when it comes to areas of improvement.
“Starting with my set in pass protection, just being more consistent with my inside foot, making sure I’m staying on the angle consistently,” he said. “My hands in pass protection as well, especially the inside hand, making sure I keep leverage on power moves.”
Williams became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history when he signed a six-year, $138 million contract ($55 million guaranteed) with the 49ers in March 2021.
Since then, Williams has been a two-time First-Team All-Pro, but his two-year stay atop the market ended when the Texans re-signed Laremy Tunsil to a three-year, $75 million extension that established a new high of a $25 million annual contract average.
“To me, there’s no deal to be made unless you are topping Tunsil,” NFL contracts expert Joel Corry of CBSSports.com told The Post. “You could make a case Thomas was the best left tackle last year, so you can either do it now and be a little above Tunsil or, if he has another year like last year, it’s going to be much above.”
Thomas was ranked as the No. 3 offensive tackle in the league last season (No. 3 pass-blocker and No. 7 run-blocker) by Pro Football Focus.
Snubbed twice by the Pro Bowl since he was a struggling rookie, Thomas has allowed just six sacks on 1,217 pass-blocking snaps over the last two seasons combined.
No. 1 pick Kyler Murray was the only member of the 2019 first-round draft class who signed an extension after three seasons.
The 2020 draft class (Thomas was picked No. 4) just became extension eligible, so who will be first?
“At a premium position, I could understand why they might want to lock him up sooner rather than later, so if I’m the team, I would have exploratory conversations,” said Corry, a former player agent. “If I’m him, if we don’t get something done now, I’m waiting for [Buccaneers’] Tristan Wirfs’ deal to get done — that is going to be a blockbuster when they are not paying a quarterback there — and then trying to top him.”
The Giants face Williams’ 49ers this season and Thomas hopes for a chance to remind his counterpart that they met years ago at a Nike recruiting camp.
And if someone had told a teenage Thomas then that he eventually would be mentioned in the same echelon as Williams?
“He would have been stoked, excited,” Thomas admitted. “It’s crazy, for sure.”