Michael Thomas was an absolute behemoth in 2019, shattering Marvin Harrison’s single-season record for catches with 149 receptions while also pacing the NFL in receiving yards with 1,725. This year? No so much. Thomas has barely seen the field in 2020, logging a mere 55 snaps for New Orleans, all of which came in the Saints’ opening-week victory over division-rival Tampa Bay. “Can’t Guard” Mike sprained his ankle in that game and hasn’t suited up since.
The Ohio State alum looked poised to return in Week 5 but was surprisingly benched for New Orleans’ Monday night contest with the Chargers following a heated altercation with one of his Saints teammates. Thomas won’t be in uniform Sunday either with New Orleans attributing his absence against the Panthers to a hamstring injury suffered at Wednesday’s practice.
Thomas hasn’t played a down in 41 days, fueling speculation the disgruntled 27-year-old could be moved at the upcoming trade deadline, which is fast approaching (November 3rd). Are the Thomas suspicions mere wishful thinking on the part of receiver-desperate teams, or are the two sides headed for a messy divorce? It’s hard to say, though Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk on NBC Sports confirms the growing belief within “league circles” that Thomas could be available at the right price.
There are obviously significant obstacles to trading Thomas. For one, the 6’3” wideout would still count $20 million towards next year’s salary cap, though his $12.6-million salary would come off the books, resulting in a net cap hit of $7.4 million. Combined with the $22.65 million owed to Drew Brees if he retires, the Saints could potentially be looking at a scenario next year where the team would owe over $40 million to two players no longer on their roster. And even if the increasingly fractured relationship between Thomas and the team that drafted him 47th overall in 2016 is viewed as unsalvageable (Florio notes the fifth-year receiver is “on thin ice” in the Big Easy), the Saints would have to explain to an anxious fan-base why they threw in the towel on a future Hall-of-Famer in the prime of his career. If that day ever comes, it won’t be an easy conversation.
Like others who are similarly wary of Thomas’ out-of-nowhere hamstring pull, Florio wonders if New Orleans created a phantom injury to keep its prized receiver out of harm’s way ahead of next month’s trade deadline. “The Saints don’t have accidents. Everything that has been reported about Thomas in recent weeks most likely has been leaked,” posits Florio, interpreting recent developments surrounding Thomas as a negotiating ploy masterminded by the Saints’ wily front office. “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.”
Less than a year removed from one of the greatest statistical seasons by a receiver in NFL history, Thomas would likely command an obscene asking price if the Saints put him on the trade market.
Update: Saints coach Sean Payton responded to the Thomas rumors on Twitter, implying his star receiver isn’t going anywhere.