With Michael Thomas signed, Saints can focus on football, Super Bowl dreams
The kickoff of the NFL’s 2019 season is a little more than a month away, but on Wednesday New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas made the biggest catch of his young career when he signed a five-year, $96.25 million contract extension – with at least $61 million in guaranteed salary and bonuses – that makes him the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver.
Thomas missed roughly the first week of training camp, as he refused to risk injury in practice until the deal was completed, but there was never a feeling that a deal wouldn’t be reached. Both the team and player had positive comments through the negotiation process and never raised alarm or showed animosity. Both sides knew Thomas’ value to the team. In just three years in the league, he has added his name to the list of all-time franchise greats. Although arguably undervalued by national media, he is already one of the best wide receivers, if not the best, in the NFL. He has more receptions through his first three seasons (321) than any other player in league history and led the league in receptions last year.
The Saints picked Thomas in the second round (47th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. In three seasons, he has amassed 3,787 receiving yards, an average of 11.8 yards per catch and 23 touchdowns. He has franchise records for most receptions in a game, 16 (September 9, 2018, vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers), most receiving yards in a game, 211 (November 4, 2018, vs Los Angeles Rams), most receptions in a season, 125 (2018), and most receiving yards in a season, 1,405 (2018).
“Now you’re the highest-paid, and now you’ve got to go earn it,” Thomas said Thursday, after his first practice with the team. “So that’s the biggest thing I’m trying to do. I’m trying to earn every penny of it.”
Thomas had been working out during his holdout, but said he missed being with his teammates as they began preparation for the coming season. Days felt like they turned into weeks, he said of missing practice.
“That’s part of developing into a great player,” he said, “and you can’t do that sitting at home.”
While national media are questioning the Saints’ ability to overcome devasting playoff losses in the last two years, Thomas’ signing ends the only distraction the team faces entering the 2019 season. Head coach Sean Payton can now focus on getting the team to coalesce, jell, and work toward their goals.
That’s not happening right now in Dallas, where Cowboy’s running back Ezekiel Elliott is holding out for a new deal. While “Zeke” is immensely talented and arguably their best player, he has two years left on his rookie deal. The Cowboys need to lock up their quarterback Dak Prescott, who is entering the last year of his rookie contract. While I generally side with players trying to get the best deals that they can, Elliot’s move looks ill-timed and potentially divisive. I’m glad that’s Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones’ problem to deal with and not Saints’ owner Gayle Benson’s.
With the deal made, the Saints and Thomas can now come together and focus on their goals of winning the NFC South, securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and going to and winning Super Bowl LIV.