For most football teams, continuity can be crucial for the overall success of both offenses and defenses. The New Orleans Saints look poised to keep its All-Pro wide receiver, Michael Thomas, for years to come, with rumors of a recording-breaking contract at the position in the works.
The Saints have offered somewhere between $18-$19 million per year which would most likely make the two-time pro bowler the highest-paid receiver in the league, surpassing Odell Beckham Jr. Initially, this is surprising but only based on the history of the franchise. When you take into account the body of work Thomas has amassed in just the first three years of his career; it makes much more sense.
The Saints speckled receiver past
What if I told you that the last Saints number one wide receiver to receive a contract after their rookie deal was Marques Colston. In 2008 he renegotiated and agreed to a three-year/$14.5 million contract and stayed with the Saints for the entirety of his ten-year career.
In 2013 New Orleans selected WR Kenny Stills from the University of Oklahoma 144th overall (fifth-round). During his rookie campaign, Stills was tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with five. The next season Stills would lead the team with 931 receiving yards and prove to be the Saints number one deep threat option. Even with his success, the Saints traded Stills to the Miami Dolphins for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a 2016 third-round draft pick.
In 2014, the Saints drafted WR Brandin Cooks from Oregon State with the 20th overall pick. His first season was encouraging for a rookie wideout, and he would lead the team in receiving yards the next two seasons, scoring 17 touchdowns. However, when it came time to re-sign him in 2017, New Orleans decided to send Cooks and their 2017 fourth-round pick to the New England Patriots for the 32nd overall pick and a third-round pick in 2017 — noticing a trend?
Back to the Present
The current Saints wide receiving core is relatively new to the team. Here are all the receivers that caught a pass this last season: Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Keith Kirkwood, Tommylee Lewis, Cameron Meredith, Austin Carr, and Brandon Marshall (Yes, that Brandon Marshall). Between all of those receivers, the longest any of them have been with the team is three years, and of the eight listed it’s only two: Thomas and Lewis.
The next addition to the current core would come in 2017 when the team signed Ginn. The other five were either draft picks or free-agent signings from the last offseason. However, with all of those receivers on the Saints roster, Michael Thomas would have over 100 more targets than the number two receiver in New Orleans. Granted Ginn was injured and held to just five games after proving to be a reliable number two receiver. But no one on the team showed up, except Thomas, and that’s why it is not insane to pay him this grandiose contract.
Is Michael Thomas the Saints $19 million man?
New Orleans selected Thomas, who played for Ohio State, in the second round with the 47th pick during the 2016 draft. His short three-year career has been nothing but breathtaking.
In his rookie year, Thomas broke 1,000 receiving yards and led the team’s receivers with nine touchdowns. His sophomore year saw similar success reaching a new season-high in receiving yards, 1,245, and was achieved a 90.6 offensive grade from ProFootballFocus.com.
Surely after two blistering hot seasons, fans would see a drop-off. Not even close, in Thomas’ third NFL season Thomas led the entire league in receptions with 125 translating to 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns. He also improved his offensive grade to a 91.3. In three seasons, Thomas has been targeted 404 times. During that same span, he has only dropped nine passes.
Thomas, along with running back Alvin Kamara and quarterback Drew Brees, has has been key to the success of this explosive Saints offense. While some of the other receivers had some big catches throughout the season, Thomas was the dependable workhorse in the passing game. Time and time again, he gained first downs and helped keep the ball moving down the field.
The Saints cap situation has been in a state of disarray for a reasonable amount of time. But, that should not stop New Orleans from letting this amazing talent slip through their fingers yet again. While it looks as though their course of action with Cooks and Stills paid off, but with no signs of slowing down, Thomas is well worth this risk. While the price may be steep, you have to pay your dues at some point. Michael Thomas should be the next receiver head coach Sean Payton keeps for the future.
Bonus: Throwing a Wrench in the plan
There’s an outside factor to take into consideration when discussing these salary numbers. Michael Thomas is not the only marquee wide receiver in contract discussions. According to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, a new deal between the Atlanta Falcons and Julio Jones is imminent and could hit the $20 million per year mark.
If Jones and the Falcons beat Thomas and the Saints to the punch, it could change what Thomas is seeking. Jones cannot officially sign a deal with the Falcons until the 26th. In June ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that both parties wanted to resolve the situation by the start of Saints training camp. Well by golly would you look at that, New Orleans training camp starts on Friday, the 26th. It sounds like it’s a matter of if the Saints and Thomas can iron out all the details in time.