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Analyzing Michael Thomas' Future with Saints and Best Potential Options in 2023

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVNovember 23, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Michael Thomas #13 of the New Orleans Saints looks on against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 13, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas faces an uncertain future with the franchise as he recovers from a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve.

Saints head coach Dennis Allen announced in early November that Thomas was having surgery on his toe and he didn't expect the team's top target to return during the 2022 season.

If that's the case, next up could be a tough decision for the front office in choosing whether to keep the star pass-catcher as part of the core for 2023 and beyond.

Thomas emerged as one of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers while earning three straight Pro Bowl appearances (2017-19) and two consecutive first-team All-Pro selections (2018-19) for the Saints. He also led the league in catches in both 2018 and 2019.

The 29-year-old Los Angeles native signed a five-year, $96.3 million contract extension with New Orleans in July 2019 and proceeded to set a new NFL record with 149 catches en route to the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award for the 2019 season.

Thomas, a 2016 second-round pick, was limited to seven games in 2020 because of a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 1 that lingered throughout the campaign. He ended up missing all of 2021 following a setback during his recovery.

The wideout returned for training camp ahead of the 2022 season, and he tallied 16 catches for 171 yards and three scores in three games before the latest injury.

In all, the Ohio State product has compiled 526 receptions for 6,121 yards and 35 touchdowns across 73 career regular-season appearances for New Orleans.

While his track record is strong, his recent injury history combined with a Saints team not ready to contend may make exploring a trade the best option for everybody involved during the offseason.

New Orleans can save $16.5 million against the 2023 salary cap if Thomas is traded or released with a post-June 1 designation. It would also create nearly $14 million in savings for 2024, and the last two seasons of the deal (2025-26) were already void years.

Meanwhile, Thomas is at the point of his career where joining a contender to chase a Super Bowl ring in a lower-volume role, which could help him stay healthy, may be the best path forward.

It's unlikely any organization would be willing to take on the remainder of his lucrative contract, so a release followed by signing a more team-friendly deal for 2023 is the most likely outcome if the Saints decide to move in a new direction.

Potential landing spots under that scenario would include the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs.

If Thomas is still interested in a marquee role over chasing a championship in the short term, teams like the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars fit the bill.

All told, it's still possible the standout receiver opens next season with the Saints, but it'd be a surprise if a move wasn't at least considered following the 2022 campaign.

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