New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas

No player in the history of the NFL had four seasons to start a career like New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas. In four years, he caught 470 passes for 5,512 yards and 32 touchdowns – seeing his reception and yardage numbers grow each year and getting whispers about Canton circulating.

He was as dominant as any position player in the league and prolonged Drew Brees’ Hall of Fame career by becoming a go-to guy of historic proportions. In 2019, he earned a well-deserved second contract – five years, $ 96 million with $ 60 million in guarantees.

All was good in New Orleans until Week 1 of the 2020 season. Thomas suffered a significant ankle injury, which limited him to just seven games that season, as the Saints kept him on the active roster for six weeks expecting he would return sooner.

He didn’t.

With Brees retired and the Saints’ short-term future in question, Thomas surprised many by waiting until June 2021 to have ankle surgery, assuring he wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season. As it turned out, he had a setback in his recovery and needed a second surgery in November – completely erasing his 2021 season.

Given his contract, which includes a $ 38.3 million dead cap number this year, $ 25.5 million in 2023, and $ 13.6 million in 2024, it’s clear that Thomas isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean the Saints aren’t hedging their bets and looking at their options in the event they spend a third straight year largely without Thomas – and clearly without the Thomas they remember.

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It wasn’t so much the utilization of their first-round draft pick on Chris Olave that perked up the ears of those wondering if they should be doubting Thomas, it was the free-agent signing of Jarvis Landry that set off the alarms.

The investment in the position was not necessary if there was conviction on the part of the front office that Thomas would be coming back and at 100 percent. When asked about the receiver’s rehabilitation prior to the draft, general manager Mickey Loomis said, “His progress is hopefully going well.”

Hopefully? That sounds like a disconnect between a player and the team’s medical staff, which wouldn’t be the first time with Thomas.

Thomas’ latest public update positions him to be ready for training camp. Earlier this week, head coach Dennis Allen said, “I think he’s doing well in his rehab.”

Think?

It seems clear the Saints have an after-Thomas plan in place. The last time Thomas took the field, Brees was his quarterback and Sean Payton was his coach. Both are gone.

Even if the man once known as “Can’t Guard Mike” makes it back, there is more competition for targets and a different look to his own locker room than he’s known in his NFL career. Quarterback Jameis Winston (knee) is the presumed starter after re-signing after knee reconstruction, and Andy Dalton will be waiting in the wings if the former Tampa passer isn’t ready in time.

Fantasy football takeaway

Devalue Thomas on your draft board, because the glory days of his first four seasons are getting dimmer in the rearview mirror. His current placement as an early pick in Round 4 assumes he’s a top-flight WR2, which just isn’t a wise approach.

He’s a much safer No. 3 in PPR, although there’s still enough upside to suggest he could be a No. 2 over a full slate. Be prepared to stockpile positional depth if you opt for him as a second wideout.

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