Michael Thomas, Saints Appear to Be in Early Stages of Messy Divorce
By Liam McKeone
It did not take long for Michael Thomas to establish himself as a premier NFL wide receiver. He caught 92 passes his first season, followed by three consecutive years with over 100 catches. Thomas led the league in both receptions (149) and yards (1,725) in 2019. He catches everything in his general radius.
All that is part of the reason why 2020 was immensely disappointing. Thomas, in the first year of a new contract that guaranteed him $60 million, played only seven games. Injured ligaments in the wideout's ankle bothered him all season and he was only able to put up a season line of 40 catches for 438 yards and zero touchdowns. He was a complete non-factor in the final year of Drew Brees' career.
It's not like that's really his fault, though. Thomas had only missed one game in four seasons leading into 2020, so there wasn't a history of injury or anything to be concerned about. He just got hurt. It happens. Everyone assumed Thomas would get surgery to fix the ankle in the offseason and show up in 2021 looking more like one of the most statistically prolific receivers in recent memory that he is.
Except... Thomas didn't get surgery. Or at least not in the right timeframe, anyway. After Adam Schefter reported in January that surgery was expected for the All-Pro, Thomas didn't undergo surgery until June. That means Thomas will be missing some regular-season games, and Sean Payton was not happy about it when first asked about the situation during Saints training camp:
"Well, look, it appears we're gonna have to spend some time without him. It's disappointing," Payton said during his opening training camp videoconference before the Saints' first practice Thursday. "And we'll work through it with the other players that are here. But the surgery took place, and obviously we would've liked that to happen earlier than later. And quite honestly, it should've."
General manager Mickey Loomis said something similar, albeit in less harsh language. But they're right. New Orleans recommended Thomas get surgery immediately after they were eliminated from the playoffs, and Thomas declined after getting a second opinion. Instead of accepting surgery was inevitable, Thomas pushed it back to the point he'll miss meaningful games, and the people who gave him a five-year, $96 million deal are displeased.
Over the last few days, the relationship between Thomas and the Saints appear to be getting worse. On Saturday, Jeff Duncan of Nola.com published a report that Thomas had ignored calls from Payton, the team trainer, and his wide receiver coach for three months during the offseason. They presumably were calling to check in on the ankle and Thomas blew them off.
That presumably led to Thomas' tweet from early Monday morning.
When a player starts tweeting pictures of words directed at their employer, it's usually an indicator that the situation is getting sour quickly. All this is happening after the team fined Thomas a game check during the 2020 season for a practice altercation, too.
The Saints are incentivized to figure this out without getting rid of Thomas. The depth chart after the star wideout is not encouraging. A trio of Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Calloway, and fresh-off-the-lacrosse-field Chris Hogan is not going to win many games. Thomas is far and away their best receiver, even if he's been a net negative on the team since getting hurt.
But Payton doesn't seem like someone who will put up with this for long. We'll see who blinks first.