By Pete Baxter
Tensions between the New Orleans Saints and star wide receiver Michael Thomas have reached an all-time high. Early Monday morning, Thomas tweeted the following:
“They tried to damage your reputation. You saved theirs by not telling your side of the story.”
Clearly, this tweet was directed at the powers-that-be in New Orleans. This is believed to be in response to a series of reports that have emerged in recent weeks detailing a complete breakdown in communication between Thomas and the Saints’ medical staff in recent months.
It has been reported that Thomas ignored phone calls from the team throughout the offseason. During this time, he opted not to get surgery on his injured ankle until June. This was five full months after the Saints’ season came to a close.
Saints’ head coach Sean Payton expressed his frustration in a July press conference. He explained the teams’ position that the surgery should have happened earlier in the offseason. Clearly, he was disappointed with his star receiver.
Thomas will miss the start of the season, and there is no exact timetable for his return.
Here Comes the Eagles Chatter
In what has become a pattern this offseason, it took no time for the rumors to begin circulating that the Philadelphia Eagles were a potential suitor for Thomas’ services. This is purely speculation at this time. That said, where there is smoke there is often fire. Therefore, it is worth examining the possibility that the injured star receiver becomes an Eagles.
Thomas was absolutely electric when catching passes from Drew Brees during his first four seasons. He exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2016. He finished that season with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns. Amazingly, for the following three years, his numbers improved steadily from there. He peaked in 2019 with a First-Team All-Pro season. He finished the 2019 season with 149 catches, 1,725 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, as noted, injuries robbed him of his 2020 season. He appeared in just seven games and caught 40 passes for 438 yards. Additionally, he was suspended by the team after a fight with safety C.J Gardner-Johnson. Around this time, Thomas’ bubbling frustration with the team first became evident. He publicly expressed frustration with the team’s medical staff, and even accused a team employee of tampering with his mail.
Clearly, that frustration is now mutual.
So, should the Eagles pursue Michael Thomas? The answer should be a resounding “no.” Let’s take a look at three reasons why the Eagles should avoid the disgruntled receiver.
Bad Fit on the Field
On the field, the Eagles invested the tenth pick in the draft on wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Smith starts his career as the de facto number one receiver on the depth chart. He had an amazing college career at Alabama that culminated in an AP Player of the Year award, the Heisman Trophy, and being named MVP of the national championship game. He also enters the league catching passes from his former college quarterback, Jalen Hurts.
Beyond Smith is a list of talented, young receivers. The group is headlined by second-year players Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham. Head coach Nick Sirianni is a former wide receivers coach. He has a great opportunity to bring the best out of his young receiving corps. In doing so, he can build a productive crop of receivers all on affordable rookie deals.
Bringing in a talented but demanding star receiver like Michael Thomas could potentially disrupt the development of the young receiving corps. Clearly, he would demand a lion’s share of the team’s targets. This would severely limit opportunities for the teams’ up-and-coming pass catchers.
His immense talent would, of course, benefit second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. However, it would also put immense pressure on the young quarterback. With a receiver the caliber of Thomas at his disposal, expectations would rise immensely for Hurts’ performance. Additionally, he would have to include managing Michael Thomas’ ego in his already immense laundry list of responsibilities for the season.
Worse Fit Off the Field
The Eagles are a team attempting to wipe the slate clean after a disastrous, dysfunctional 2020 campaign. Last season cost a Super Bowl-winning coach his job. It pushed a recent MVP favorite quarterback out the door.
The lack of continuity and communication between the players, coaches and front office was an absolute debacle. It culminated in a blatant display of tanking in week 17. Jalen Hurts was benched for no apparent reason in favor of completely unprepared Nate Sudfeld. This helped the Eagles secure a top draft pick. It also added fuel to the fire that cost head coach Doug Pederson his job.
This season the Eagles have a new head coach and a seemingly empowered starting quarterback. The Eagles have an opportunity to wash away the stink and the trauma of 2020. They have a roster full of hungry young players.
Jalen Hurts in not Drew Brees. Jalen Hurts, while not necessarily less talented, is not Jameis Winston either. Hurts is not going to throw for 4,500 yards. He is going to run nearly as often as he goes to the air. Michael Thomas will not catch 100+ balls should he come to Philadelphia, even if he gets healthy sooner rather than later.
Thus, it is very reasonable to believe that Michael Thomas will be no less disgruntled in Philadelphia. Thomas has become disgusted by a franchise that made him a superstar and handed him a $100 million extension just two years. The Saints were a playoff team throughout his tenure there. He was targeted 185 times in 2019.
While they will be improved, the Eagles will be hard pressed to make the playoffs this year. As noted, their offense is not built in a way to provide anyone with 150+ targets. Philly’s leading receiver last season was Travis Fulgham with 539 yards on 67 targets.
Thomas is an injured, disgruntled player. If he is acquired by Philadelphia, he will still be an injured, disgruntled player. For a team working to rebuild their culture from the ground up, that is the last thing that they need.
Money Better Spent Elsewhere
On the plus side, Thomas did restructure his contract for this season to a bonus-driven deal. It contains a base salary of just $1 million dollars. That said, the big money hits in 2022. He is set to make an average of $19 million per season for the following three years.
As one of the best wide receivers in the league, that is not necessarily an outrageous deal. In fact, for a healthy, motivated Michael Thomas, it would not be a bad deal at all.
For the Eagles, however, it just doesn’t make sense. Now is the time to build a complete team around Jalen Hurts, a talented young quarterback on a rookie deal. Hurts has a cap hit of less than $2 million for each of the next three seasons.
His current top receiver, DeVonta Smith, is also on a rookie deal, set to make between $3.6 million and $6.4 million over the next four seasons. This is also a great deal for a number one receiver.
These team-friendly contracts for two of their most important players should give the Eagles unprecedented flexibility to build their team moving forward. Spending $19 million per season on a disgruntled wide receiver coming off an injury is not the best place to start.
The Eagles are not a “win-now” team. Bringing in Thomas would be a “win-now” move that does not fit the team’s current timeline.
The Eagles are in the top-10 in teams in terms of available cap space with over $16 million and counting. They also have a healthy bevy of draft picks at their disposal with 10 in 2022 alone.
If the Eagles use this season to develop their current young talent, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, they can enter the 2022 offseason poised to build a contender.
Michael Thomas does not fit with the Eagles’ plans financially, philosophically, culturally, or strategically. Howie Roseman has the reputation of being an aggressive general manager on the trade market. Here’s hoping he shows some restraint in this scenario.
More to come from Philly.