Last year, evidence of very real friction emerged between the Saints and superstar receiver Michael Thomas. The fact that Thomas reportedly will miss the start of the season due to ankle surgery dating back to the injury he suffered in Week One of the 2020 season could make things worse.
It definitely won’t make things better.
On the surface, an obvious question arises: why would Thomas wait until June to get surgery with a four-month recovery/rehab period? A clear answer hasn’t emerged, but Nick Underhill of NewOrleansFootball.com has pieced together some facts that could make the Saints less than thrilled about the manner in which Thomas handled the situation.
Per Underhill, Thomas saw a specialist after the 2020 season ended. The specialist believed that Thomas possibly could rehab the injury and avoid surgery. Thomas, according to the report, was supposed to spend a month or so attempting to heal the ankle and then return to the specialist to see whether surgery would be needed. Underhill reports that the return visit never happened.
Underhill adds that the events of the next few months are unclear. When Thomas returned to the Saints in June for offseason workouts (it’s unclear why he wasn’t there earlier), the Saints realized his ankle “was still in bad shape.” (Coach Sean Payton said in June of the Thomas ankle injury, “So far, so good.”) The team then told Thomas to get the surgery performed. And now he needs six to eight weeks after surgery to heal the ligament and six to eight weeks thereafter to get the repaired ankle into full football shape.
If Underhill’s report is accurate (and I’m not doubting it, I’m just qualifying what I’m about to say next), there’s a very good chance the Saints are pissed at him for delaying the process. If he’d returned to the specialist and gotten surgery by March, he’d possibly be ready to go from the start of training camp. Indeed, surgery was deemed “likely” in the aftermath of the team’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay in January.
To the extent the Saints aren’t happy with Thomas, that emotion isn’t new. Last October, Jeff Duncan of TheAthletic.com wrote at length about the concerns the team had with Thomas. Then there’s the fact that, as PFT reported in late October, the Thomas camp was trying to get another team to make the Saints a trade offer for Thomas. No offers were ever made.
That part shows that any hard feelings are (or at least at the time were) mutual. Now, with the team potentially stewing over Thomas dragging his feet regarding his ankle and Thomas possibly (underscore possibly) taking his time as a not-so-subtle middle finger to the team, where does it go from here?
A trade before the 2021 deadline wouldn’t change his $8.9 million bonus proration for the current year, and it would result in the team taking a $22.7 million cap charge in 2022. Although Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis has shown that he knows how to work salary-cap magic, the team surely would prefer avoiding that kind of dead-money load next year. (That said, they would offset the cap hit by avoiding $15.6 million in compensation for Thomas in 2022.)
However it all plays out, the tea leaves suggest that the milk quite possibly remains spoiled between player and team. If the Saints can get off to a good start without him this year, the Saints could decide that the time has come to listen to offers — if, of course, they get any.