Is Michael Thomas Done in New Orleans?

Is Michael Thomas Done in New Orleans?
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Just three years ago, Michael Thomas had won the Offensive Player of the Year award. He had caught a career-high 147 passes for a gaudy 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019 for a high-powered New Orleans Saints team. Fast forward to 2023, and things have not held up. Thomas has played 10 games in the last three seasons, and the Saints are at a crossroads as an organization. And likewise, Michael Thomas’ future with the Saints could also hang in the balance.

Michael Thomas’ Injury Troubles

Before the 2020 season, Thomas had been very durable for the Saints. He had only missed one game from 2016-19 between the regular season and playoffs. However, things soon began to change for the worse, for him and New Orleans.

In 2020, he suffered a sprained ankle in the season opener. While he played six games afterward, he was later shut down and put on injured reserve. 2021 brought about a new situation when Thomas held off on ankle surgery until June. Already behind schedule due to having his surgery late in the year, he suffered a setback in his recovery, which shut him down for the 2021 season. Thomas did not play a single game this season, one that ended in a 9-8 season, but missed the playoffs.

It seemed like he would be back in 2022, and initially, he was. He played the first three games of the season, catching 16 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. However soon after, he suffered a dislocated second toe that caused him to be placed on injured reserve again. At that point, it has been three straight seasons with Michael Thomas suffering season-ending injuries. Over that stretch, the Saints have missed the postseason two seasons in a row. And this succeeds the 2020 season where New Orleans lost in the divisional round to Tampa Bay, a game Thomas played in but had no catches.

The New Orleans Crossroads

The Saints have been trying to move forward in the post-Drew Brees-Sean Payton era. As a result, they have been a shell of the Saints from the late-2010s that won four straight NFC South titles. Just like the Saints, Thomas is at a crossroads of his own.

Ideally, a player of Michael Thomas’ caliber is still valuable to an offense as a physical, sure-handed primary option. That is what he was for Drew Brees during the Saints’ run. However, combined with his injuries, the Saints have found a new primary target in Chris Olave. As a result, Thomas’ place with the team has been called into question.

Earlier this month, Thomas agreed with the Saints on a restructured contract, freeing up $14 million in cap space. However, he is also due for a $31 million roster bonus in March. According to ESPN’s Field Yates, this likely will speed up New Orleans’ decision on Thomas, whose bonus becomes guaranteed on March 17th.

 

What likely decides the fate of Thomas is the Saints’ cap situation. Currently, the Saints are projected to be over $50 million over the salary cap. And Thomas alone could account for $60 million of the team’s cap in 2024. And for a New Orleans Saints team that may be staring down a rebuild, they may have to part ways with one of the best receivers in team history.

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