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Saints WR Michael Thomas Now Has 100 Million (Plus?) Reasons to Thank Rams WR Brandin Cooks

It's not exactly the greatest secret in the world that the New Orleans Saints have one of the very best young wide receivers in the entire sport of Pro Football on their team, with now 3rd year wide receiver Michael Thomas.

However, Thomas is currently one of the most underpaid players at his position in the entire League (although not intentional on the part of the Saints organization since he's still playing on his original rookie contract); but thanks to the events out in Los Angeles yesterday involving former Saints and now L.A. Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks, that's all about to change ― and QUICK.

Thomas, who just turned 25 in March. signed a 4 year, $5,118,971 contract with the Saints after being drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2016 NFL Draft (#47 overall), which included a $1,922,888 signing bonus, $2,605,569 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $1,279,743.

In 2018, Thomas will earn a base salary of only  $915,361.

That's less than $1 million for a WR who in his first two seasons, set the NFL record for most catches by a player through his first two seasons in football history (196), and the franchise marks after catching 92 passes for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie.

And just for good measure: his 106 receptions in 2017 broke the Saints’ franchise previous record for receptions in a season (which had been 99); which was previously established by former Saints (and now current Green Bay Packers) TE Jimmy Graham back in 2011.

This is the very same young player mind you who last season among all NFL wide receivers, ranked 4th overall with 22 receptions of over 20 yards, behind the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones (23), the Houston Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins (24), and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown (27).

He also was ranked 6th among all wide receivers in receiving yardage with 1,245 yards, one of six pass catchers to finish with over 1,200 yards (Steelers WR Antonio Brown led all players at the position with 1,533 yards).

Bottom line: Michael Thomas has already become one of THE VERY BEST WIDE RECEIVERS in only 2 years time ― and now thanks to the contract extension signed by his friend and one-time former teammate Brandin Cooks yesterday, he's about to get PAID like it real soon.

(AP Photo/David Goldman) David Goldman

The Rams yesterday signed the 24-year-old Cooks to a 5-year contract extension through the 2023 season. The deal is worth $80 million, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

As a direct result, Cooks is now one of the most well-paid players at the wide receiver position in the entire League; which means that for a player who many would say is an even better player than Cooks is, the expectation moving forward is that the Saints front office brass will have to be prepared and ready to part with some big-time cash here in the not-so-distant future, to ensure Thomas remains in NOLA long-term as well.

The speedy Cooks has played four seasons so far in his young NFL career, three with the Saints in NOLA and then one with New England last season; after New Orleans traded him in exchange for the Patriots' top pick in last year's 2017 NFL Draft (which they used on offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk).

Cooks, taken originally by the Saints with the #20 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, has tallied three straight seasons recording over 1,000 receiving yards from 2015 to 2017) and has 280 career receptions for 3,943 yards and a total of 27 receiving touchdowns.

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

Cooks was traded to the Rams this off-season by the Patriots back in April; when L.A. traded a 1st-round pick and a 6th-round pick to the Patriots for the speedy wideout along with an additional 4th-round selection. 

Cooks has since been incorporated into the recently rejuvenated and now suddenly dangerous Rams offense under head coach and offensive "guru" Sean McVay ― who was named last year's 2017 NFL Head Coach of the Year after his new scheme finished 10th in total yards, averaging 361.5 yards per game.

Cooks has yet to play a single snap for the Rams, but McVay liked what he saw from the receiver throughout their franchise's off-season program; and convinced Rams General Manager Les Snead that the time was right to get Cooks locked up long-term.

"Brandin Cooks has shown himself to be a class act on and off the field since the first day he joined our team," McVay said in a statement. "He's a proven professional in this league and signing him to a long-term contract was always our goal."

Cooks told Los Angeles-based ESPN reporter Lindsey Thiry that he knew he wanted to sign a long-term contract shortly after arriving at the team's training facility, and observing the culture established by McVay.

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

"Even before I got here, you saw something special going on with this team, with the coach, our great owner, and the teammates that I'm involved with," Cooks said. "It's a young culture that is very energetic."

The Rams are coming off an (11-5) season that included their first NFC West Division title in 14 years and their first playoff appearance since 2004. They're considered a big-time Super Bowl contender heading into the upcoming 2018 NFL season, and with good reason.

They've had one of the most successful NFL off-seasons since that time, while building a "super team" in this year's recent Free Agency; after having gone out and acquired a new top-rated pair of "lockdown" cornerbacks with Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, an impact defensive tackle with veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to play alongside All-Pro DT Aaron Donald; and then the eventual trade for Cooks.

"I just knew that this is a place where I want to be for a really long time," Cooks said, adding, "I'm just excited to get Game 1 let alone six years. So that's what I'm focused on now."

Now, it could be suggested that the Rams "overpaid" Cooks; and now teams like the Saints will be forced to pony up more money to sign their own star player at the position, then was their original intent.

And while Cooks' extension is great news for Rams fans (or so we assume), it now means that the Saints front office will have to be proactive in their approach towards Thomas going forward, to make sure that the young superstar knows well in advance that he is an invaluable member of this young team and the likely one true future "face of the franchise" after Drew Brees retires.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

So giving him a fair offer now before the market can get too far from out of their price range, seemingly would now be one of their top priorities.

It's a sentiment already shared by some of Thomas' own teammates, including 3rd year Saints CB Ken Crawley: who yesterday drew inspiration from the news of Cooks' extension and was prompted to make an observation of his own.

“100 M’s coming Mike #shhhh,” Crawley tweeted out almost immediately after the news of Cooks’ deal with the Rams had broke and become public knowledge.

For those Saints fans who think giving Michael Thomas over $100 million for 5 years is way too much for any one single player to make regardless of how good he is, just keep in mind that it's the "going rate" currently for a player with the undeniable talent that he possesses ― and the very impressive production thus far that he's been able to produce.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

That's a fact not lost on Thomas himself; who just the other day told Bleacher Report senior writer / analyst Matt Miller that he isn't quite sure just why his name's rarely mentioned along with the other top-rated WR's in the League; such as Antonio Brown and Julio Jones,

"Honestly, I'm not exactly sure," he told Miller. "I really hope it's one of those prove-it-a-little-longer type of things, since I've only been in the league for two years.  But I don't worry too much about those type of things, because it's out of my control. I think it's a blessing in disguise at the end of the day because everything will have been earned and nothing will have been given to me.

"At the end of the day, when I hang them up and walk away from the game, I believe I will have earned all the respect and acknowledgment I could ever want. So I just kind of accept it for now, and I'll just keep making history and breaking records and let history be the judge of the rest. Regardless of how anyone feels, I know if I stay consistent and keep working hard, they won't be able to deny what I brought to the table.

"I have no doubt one day, not only will I get the respect, but I will be looked at by my peers as one of the best to ever do it. You play this game to be a champion and to be the best, and I work hard every day so I can accomplish both."

Miller makes the observation that some league "insiders" believe that Michael Thomas is overlooked because he plays with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, which inflates his production; while others have said he's been overshadowed by Alvin Kamara ― last year's 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year ― in his own offense.

But one NFC defensive backs coach privately told Bleacher Report and Miller that "I don't know anyone in our line of work overlooking him"

"He's already elite."

Believe this much: players that are considered "elite" in the National Football League, get paid ELITE MONEY.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

You can certainly bet that Saints front-office brass is already well-aware of that fact; and so it probably goes without saying that Michael Thomas more than likely will be making a sizable deposit into his bank account, at some point in the not-too-distant future.

And when he does, he can give his old teammate Brandin Cooks a call and say "thanks".

After all, he'll have over 100 million plus reasons to do so.............

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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