NFL Rumors: Michael Thomas Restructures Saints Contract Ahead of Possible Free Agency

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 7, 2023

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - SEPTEMBER 18: Michael Thomas #13 of the New Orleans Saints in action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Caesars Superdome on September 18, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Wide receiver Michael Thomas reportedly restructured his contract with the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, potentially clearing the way for him to become a free agent.

According to ESPN's Field Yates, Thomas had his base salary for 2023 reduced from $15.5 million to $1.165 million, and a $31.755 million roster bonus was added for the 2024 league year.

That bonus will become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2023 league year, which is March 17, 2023. The move gives the Saints about $14 million in salary-cap relief.

If the Saints do intend to release Thomas and avoid paying him the roster bonus, it could cut him before March 17 and designate him as a post-June 1 release. Thomas' $15.5 million salary would count against the Saints' cap initially, but they would then get cap relief on June 2 in that scenario.

While cutting Thomas this offseason would result in cap savings for the 2023 season, the roster bonus of $31.8 million would count toward the cap in 2024.

Thomas was once viewed as one of the preeminent wide receivers in the NFL, but injuries have largely kept him off the field for the past three seasons.

The Saints selected Thomas in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft out of Ohio State, and he enjoyed one of the best starts to a career by a wideout in NFL history, surpassing 1,100 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons.

From 2017 to 2019, Thomas finished with at least 100 catches and 1,200 yards each season, and he was named a Pro Bowler all three years and a first-team All-Pro twice.

His best season came in 2019 when he led the NFL with a single-season record 149 receptions. He also led the league with 1,725 receiving yards and tied his career high with nine touchdowns.

Thomas was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year for his efforts, making him the first receiver to win the award since the legendary Jerry Rice in 1993.

Although Thomas was expected to continue building a Hall of Fame resumΓ© after that, he has instead fallen off the map completely.

An ankle injury limited Thomas to just seven games in 2020, and ankle surgery followed by a setback cost him the entire 2021 campaign.

Thomas appeared healthy and ready to bounce back at the start of the 2022 season, but a foot injury landed him on injured reserve and ended his season after only three games.

Over the past three seasons combined, the 29-year-old veteran has just 56 catches for 609 yards and three touchdowns to his credit.

If the Saints do decide to release Thomas, it is a move they can afford to make thanks to the emergence of rookie wide receiver Chris Olave, who was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft out of Ohio State.

In 14 games this season, Olave has racked up 67 catches for 982 yards and three touchdowns, making him one of the top rookies in the NFL this season, and the Saints' No. 1 wideout of the present and future.

Any team that signs Thomas would be rolling the dice because of his recent injury history, but he has proved himself to be an elite receiver when healthy.