Hello friends and readers! After a summer vacation, we’re back to talk the 2019 Saints season.
It’s training camp time; Saints rookies reported on the 18th and veterans report on the 25th. There aren’t a whole lot of new faces to welcome to the team, but we’ll get around to highlighting the key new players and departures soon.
First things first, though: The Saints have some big decisions to make on the best players from recent draft classes soon. And having handed out a big (and well-deserved) extension to Cameron Jordan this offseason, there’s not as much immediate money on hand for that sort of thing, although Mickey Loomis’ well-established cap wizardry always finds a way.
The next big target for an extension is wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas was the 44th pick in the 2016 draft and immediately stepped in and played at a level only a handful of rookie wide receivers have. Since he was a second-round pick, he doesn’t have the fifth-year team option on his rookie deal that Sheldon Rankins does, so he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after 2019 if the Saints don’t come to an agreement with him.
Thomas is likely looking to become the highest-paid receiver in the league, and as one of the league’s best– and, alongside Odell Beckham and DeAndre Hopkins, the only under-28 players with a legitimate claim to being the league’s best wide receiver– he deserves it and will get it somewhere if the Saints don’t give it to him. The question is, should they? Let’s look the arguments.
Against: The Saints have never paid a wide receiver big bucks in the Payton/Brees era.
The best and most consistent wide receiver on these Saints prior to Thomas’ arrival was Marques Colston. Colston was a reliable performer from the beginning and for nearly a decade, amassing almost 10,000 career yards. The biggest contract the Saints ever gave him, however, was a four-year deal worth a little over $25 million, in 2012. Thomas will cost substantially more.
If we assume Thomas wants to be the NFL’s highest-paid receiver, then we need to consider who is as present. Odell Beckham signed a five-year extension on his rookie deal that paid him $90 million overall, with over $40 million in hard guarantees and $65 million in “practical guarantees” (which includes items like base salaries that aren’t guaranteed, but are early enough in the contract where cutting the player to avoid paying them would be prohibitive). Thomas is going to want more, likely a five-year deal in the $100-110 million range.
That’s an enormous chunk of money and one that may prevent the team from signing other valuable players.
Drew Brees has always been able to run an elite offense without a top-five receiver; there’s no reason to expect that, without Thomas, he would be unable to do so.
For: The Saints have never had a wide receiver this good in the Payton/Brees era.
Thomas deserves that much money because he is unquestionably one of the top receivers in the league and has been from the moment he set foot on an NFL field. He’s just entering his prime, and as suggested by last year’s dominant campaign (leading the league in both receptions and reception percentage, an unprecedented feat), he is continuing to improve even from the high level of play he exhibited entering the league.
The Saints haven’t paid a receiver as much as Thomas is seeking because they’ve never had a receiver like this. Even Jimmy Graham, who was dominant at his peak, didn’t have Thomas’ track record of health, let alone his obscene reliability. Check out this data on Thomas’ catch rate:
Thomas is an ultra-reliable #1 rarely seen in the NFL; his catch rate is a product of that combined with a legendary quarterback with pinpoint accuracy.
Speaking of said legendary quarterback: The other factor to consider is that Drew Brees is 40 this season. The end of the road has to come at some point, no matter how well he cares for himself and avoids injury. And when it comes, it often comes fast– ask Brett Favre. (There’s a reason the Saints were so intent on acquiring Teddy Bridgewater last offseason and keeping him around this offseason.) Nothing could better help a new QB– who simply won’t be Brees; no matter how good he is, it’s impossible to ask anyone to step into the shoes of the all-time leader in passing yards and completion percentage– than having an elite, go-to receiver who is among the most reliable in the game.
For my money (and it’s not my money, but still), I think the Saints should pay Thomas. He’s too good, he has no injury or character red flags, he’s a beloved part of this franchise and city, and you don’t let gems like him go when you find them. Any worries I have about the amount of cap he’ll have tied up are allayed by the fact that he’s a known quantity, a guaranteed superstar, and that you can be confident the money spent on him is money well spent.
Next time: A look at some new faces!