The New Orleans Saints are reportedly "more than open" to a blockbuster trade involving Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas following a public disagreement about his decision to undergo ankle surgery in June, which will cause him to miss the start of the 2021 season.
Larry Holder of The Athletic reported Friday he expects an "unceremonious end" to Thomas' time with the Saints and noted it could happen "sooner than anyone expected."
The first sign of tension came in late July when New Orleans head coach Sean Payton was asked about being without one of the team's top playmakers to open the new campaign.
"It appears we're going to have to spend some time without him. It's disappointing, but we'll work through it with the other players that are here," Payton told reporters. "The surgery took place. Obviously, we would have liked that to have happened earlier than later. Quite honestly, it should have."
On Monday, Thomas made a cryptic post on Twitter that was seemingly a response to the criticism:
The 28-year-old Ohio State product was one of the NFL's best players across his first four seasons with the Saints, who selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft. He tallied 470 receptions for 5,512 yards and 32 touchdowns from 2016 through 2019, including a single-season record of 149 catches in 2019.
Thomas suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1 last year, however, and he never appeared to fully recover en route to 40 catches and no touchdowns in seven appearances.
While Payton was frustrated with the receiver's decision to wait until June for the surgery, thus pushing his recovery timetable into the regular season, general manager Mickey Loomis explained the team was initially on board with nonsurgical rehabilitation but the plan didn't work out.
"Obviously, in hindsight, we would've preferred the surgery to be earlier [in February or March] but it wasn't, so it is what it is," Loomis said.
Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson reported Wednesday that Thomas and Payton recently had a meeting to talk through their respective frustrations, and a rival NFL general manager said any trade in the short term likely wouldn't land fair-market value for the two-time first-team All-Pro.
"It would make more sense to just ride it out, at least until he's back on the field," the GM told Robinson. "If it's not going to work after that, at least you know [as a potential trade suitor] what he can do on the field. It takes some of the risk out of an evaluation."
In addition, trading Thomas now would create $31.8 million in dead cap space ($9.1 million in 2021 and $22.7 million in 2022) for the Saints, per Spotrac.
So there are a lot of variables that make an imminent trade unlikely. Perhaps if Thomas is back in action before the Nov. 2 trade deadline and tensions with the Saints haven't eased then a contender may be willing to step up with a significant offer to bolster its Super Bowl hopes.
In the meantime, New Orleans will hope the star wideout doesn't miss too many contests as it tries to complete a quarterback transition from Drew Brees to either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill—a task far easier with a true No. 1 target like Thomas available.
The Saints kick off the regular season Sept. 12 when they host the Green Bay Packers.