Thoughts on Michael Thomas’ contract, beer and wine in Tiger Stadium
The New Orleans Saints have their sights set on returning to the NFL’s championship game and are focused on the steps it takes to get there – focus on each game, qualify for the postseason, win the division, get a playoff bye, earn home-field advantage and represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
In the last two years, the team has been notoriously knocked out of the NFC divisional round and championship game (at home) in the last two seasons. With Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas the team has the best combination of quarterback, running back and wide receiver in the NFL. But Brees turned 40 in January – and with a noticeable dip in production late in the 2018 season – there is a feel that the Saints may be all in on trying to win their second title in the coming season.
At this point, all interested in the Saints fortunes, want a season without distractions from their ultimate goal, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when Thomas was a no-show this week when training camp opened.
Thomas is the best receiver in the league, and he wants to be paid like it. He is entering the final year of a four-year, $5.11 million contract with $2.6 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $1.92 million. Under his current deal, he is scheduled to make $1.1 million in 2019.
Meanwhile, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. signed a five-year, $95 million contract with the New York Giants a year ago before Big Blue shipped the former LSU standout to the Cleveland Browns this offseason.
Up until yesterday, Thomas’ contract request and negotiations with the Saints have been kept relatively quiet, however they’ve been ongoing for weeks. In June, Nola.com reported the team was willing to offer him a contract averaging roughly $18 million per year, while Thomas believes his talent is worth $22 million a season. Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com reported this week that the 26-year-old wants to be the NFL’s first $20 million-per-year pass catcher.
Relative to modern NFL economics, it’s hard to argue against Thomas. 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, if not, the best wide receivers 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 (Sept. 9, 2018, vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers), most receiving yards in a game, 211 (Nov. 4, 2018, vs Los Angeles Rams), most receptions in a season, 125 (2018), and most receiving yards in a season, 1,405 (2018).
While it’s easy to see general manager Mickey Loomis parroting the old Frankie & Johnny’s Furniture add, exclaiming, “I got it! I got it! I got the $20 million,” the team has to balance finances for this season and beyond. A major piece of that puzzle involves the mortgage due on Brees, who will cost the team $21.3 million in 2020 dead-cap money whether he plays or not.
Loomis is in the precarious position of overseeing the transformation of the team moving from Brees’ to his successor, presumably Teddy Bridgewater. But whomever is under center for the Saints in the coming seasons they will need a reliable target and leader like Thomas on the field and in the locker room. The franchise will need established stars – Thomas, Kamara, defensive end Cameron Jordan – to help the team transfer to new on-field leadership.
“Can’t guard Mike” has become Thomas’ catch phrase in his time with the Saints. He’s good and doesn’t make himself a distraction to his team (cough, Odell). He’s worthy of the loot, but his value to the team will grow in the next few seasons. He and the team need to come to an agreement so both can work toward the ultimate goal – Super Bowl LIV.
Cheers & Booze
Awww, y’all done it now. Tiger Stadium was already considered one of the loudest, most intimidating places for opposing teams and fans to visit, and now “Death Valley” may get a bit more intense.
LSU announced this week it will allow beer and wine to be sold inside general seating areas to fans ages 21 and over in 2019.
“This is all about enhancing the fan experience, responding to the feedback from our fans and doing it responsibly,” LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said. “It’s a big addition to our events, and we believe it will be a positive one overall. But we are going about it with the appropriate mindset and thorough planning.”
This offseason, the Southeastern Conference allowed its 14-member schools to decide if they would allow in-stadium beer and wine sales this season. While several schools, including Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn, have declined the economic opportunity, LSU has been joined by Texas A&M in allowing in-stadium alcohol sales at designated concession stands. Sales will not be allowed in the student section or by vendors in seating areas. Alcohol sales will be cut off at the end of the third quarter.
While SEC stadiums are no strangers to bootlegging – and Tiger fans are famous and notorious for getting well lubed before kickoff – this will be a new era for SEC football. Sales and sponsorships open a new economic opportunity for the athletic programs. Assuming Tiger and Aggie fans can hold their liquor and act right, I expect more schools to be open-minded and allow the additions of taps soon.