Placement of Michael Thomas on IR comes at a strange time

USA TODAY Sports

After Saints receiver Michael Thomas suffered an ankle injury in Week One against the Buccaneers, the Saints didn’t place him on injured reserve, which would have shelved him for a minimum of three weeks. He then missed eight weeks.

Now, after Thomas didn’t practice all week due to the ankle injury, the Saints placed Thomas on injured reserve, on Saturday.

“Thomas’ ankle just was not getting better with practice and games,” ESPN reported earlier today.

But it was getting better. In Week 11, Thomas wasn’t listed at all on the injury report. That means he had no practice limitations, and that he was getting no treatment on the ankle.

For Week 12, Week 13, and Week 14, Thomas was back on the injury report, with limited appearances every Wednesday and Thursday, full participation on the Friday of Week 13 and Week 14, and no injury designation before any games since his Week Nine return, when he was labeled “questionable.” Despite the limited participation at least twist per week, Thomas consistently was practicing and consistently was playing.

Something happened during or after last Sunday’s game against the Eagles, because Thomas suddenly was listed as “DNP” on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, before being scratched on Friday and then placed on IR as of Saturday.

ESPN contends that the Saints expect Thomas to be “close to 100% for the start of the playoffs.” The decision to put him on IR today means that he can’t return to the active roster until Saturday, January 9. If the Saints don’t secure a bye, Thomas potentially could be returning from injured reserve on the day of a playoff game. (Thomas, per the league, will be permitted to return to practice for the week prior to the wild-card game.)

Still, why shut Thomas down for the final three games of the regular season and the wild-card round after carrying him on the active roster for two months? It’s hard not to wonder whether something else is going on. Maybe coach Sean Payton became exasperated with the perception that Thomas wasn’t doing enough to put in full practice weeks before games, and that maybe Thomas wasn’t as prepared as he could or should be on Sundays after not fully practicing. Or maybe there’s some lingering ill will arising from the game check that was taken from Thomas after he punched a teammate at practice.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone will admit that this is anything other than managing the injury, and perhaps that’s all it is. The facts and circumstances invite speculation that something more is going on. Maybe one of this week’s Sunday Splash! stories will provide the rest of the story regarding whatever it is that’s truly happening between Michael Thomas and the Saints.