As the trade deadline approaches — and as the COVID-19 protocol as a practical matter accelerates the closing of the window for teams that hope to have new players ready to go for Week Nine — there’s an unlikely name to watch: Michael Thomas.
Some in league circles believe that the Saints could be willing to move him, and/or that Thomas could be interested in moving.
Two weeks ago, Thomas punched a teammate during practice. The Saints suspended him without really suspending him, fining him the amount of a game check and not putting him on the active roster for a Monday night game against the Chargers. Now, Thomas has a hamstring injury to go along with the high ankle sprain that he suffered six weeks ago tomorrow.
Only Thomas and the Saints know whether he could actually play on Sunday, or whether he’s simply being parked to preserve potential trade value. Only Thomas (and his agents) and the Saints know whether the two sides are thinking about going their separate ways and hoping that someone will call the Saints and initiate discussions aimed at making it happen.
Regardless, the Saints don’t have accidents. Everything that has been reported about Thomas in recent weeks most likely has been leaked. And while it’s yet to be reported that the Saints are shopping Thomas (then again, another round of Sunday Splash! reports is just a day away), the strategy on this one may be to see whether anyone makes an offer the Saints won’t refuse.
Yes, trading Thomas would result in a $20 million cap charge for the Saints in 2021. It also would avoid $12.6 million in salary for Thomas, dropping the net cap cost to $7.4 million. Given that they’re already looking at a $22.65 million reckoning for quarterback Drew Brees if/when Brees retires after the current season, the Saints could end up carrying $42.65 million in cap charges for two guys who are no longer on the team, in a year that may have a total cap of only $175 million.
That doesn’t make a Thomas trade impossible. It simply raises the bar as to what it would take for the Saints to regard an offer for Thomas as one they wouldn’t refuse. Indeed, the best way to navigate dead money is to load up on draft picks with low cap charges, thanks to the rookie wage scale.
Two weeks ago, the Saints sent a crystal clear message to Thomas, and to the rest of the league. Thomas is on thin ice in New Orleans. Regardless of whether he doesn’t crash through it, the dispute that the Saints allowed to become public operates as an invitation to bid on Thomas, without the Saints losing leverage by actively soliciting bids.
If no one makes an offer that gets the Saints to pull the trigger, the team and Thomas will have the rest of the season to determine whether they can coexist. If that offer comes from a contender for whom Thomas would like to play, it makes sense to monitor the situation.