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JUST PAY MIKE: Saints Need to Do Whatever it Takes to Keep Michael Thomas in NOLA

$22 Million dollars per season. If that sounds like an ungodly and obscene amount of money to pay to one single NFL player for just catching a football, it's probably because it really is. But for the New Orleans Saints — a team that thanks to two incredibly unbelievable endings in their past two Playoff appearances have missed out on going to back-to-back Super Bowls — it seemingly would be a sound financial investment and money well-spent.

That player of course is now soon-to-be 4th year Saints veteran and superstar WR Michael Thomas, who last season caught the most passes in the NFL last season but who this year is entering into what will be the final year of his original rookie contract that he signed originally as a rookie out of Ohio State University following the 2016 NFL Draft.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As of this very moment, the Saints and Thomas reportedly are still far apart on a contract extension but are hoping to get it done before the start of their 2019 Training Camp at the end of next month, according to / The Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan. If the Black and Gold and the 26-year old Thomas are able to reach an agreement before this season, the deal could be one of the larger contracts in the league.

Additionally, it was reported by ESPN’s Dianna Russini that Saints team brass (GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton) were willing to make Thomas the highest-paid receiver in the NFL.

If that happens, it would make Thomas rich beyond his wildest dreams; and it's also an amount that would surpass Cleveland Browns WR (and former LSU star) Odell Beckham Jr., who currently has the largest contract for any offensive player (other than the QB position) in the sport of Pro Football. Beckham's deal with Cleveland paid him $41 million in guaranteed money. and a base salary of $90 million for 5 years, which equates to $18 million per season.

The biggest question then becomes: is Thomas actually WORTH paying $22 million dollars per season?

And the answer is a resounding and unequivocal "yes", especially when one takes into consideration Thomas' rapid (and undeniable) ascent to the very top of the list of the League's elite-caliber players at the WR position. In fact, a sound argument could be made that the Los Angeles native in just 3 years time, has become THE BEST wide receiver in the entire NFL, period.

As a testament to that fact, Thomas has the most catches (321) and the fourth-most receiving yards (3,787) in NFL history for the first three years of an NFL player’s career; which only three other WR's — retired Hall of Famer Randy Moss, Beckham. and Cincinnati  Bengals star A.J. Green — have ever achieved.

Last year during the 2018 NFL Season, Thomas was ranked 11th overall in targets (147) but yet he still ended up leading the League in  total receptions (125). He also finished ranked 8th overall in receiving yards per game (87.8); and his catches and receiving yards (1,405) were both Saints single-season team records. Perhaps even more impressive: Thomas' YAC (yards after the catch), as the former Buckeye tallied (502) yards after the catch last season, which ranked him 3rd overall in that category,

And that's just the proverbial "tip of the iceberg".

Thomas also had the 2nd-most third-down conversions in the entire league (23) last year.; which the good folks over at analytics website Pro Football Focus noted in their yards per route run statistics that were released after the season. But perhaps an even more impressive accomplishment: Thomas had an 85 percent catch rate in 2018, the highest in the entire NFL for a WR.

Now to be completely fair, the Saints offense has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts over the course of the last few seasons that have served to inflate that number; dating back to Thomas' arrival in NOLA 4 years ago. Specifically, the addition of RB Alvin Kamara has altered the way that the Saints employ their high-powered offense.

As Brees has gotten older, the Saints very wisely have committed themselves to Kamara and the running game, more than ever before. With the future Hall of Famer having just turned age 40 a few months ago, the team has lessened the burden on Brees to have to "do it all", and gone are the days back when the Saints needed him to throw damn near 50 pass attempts per game just to have a shot at winning that week.

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

And while it's debatable if Brees still should be considered the most productive QB in the NFL, there isn't any dispute whatsoever that he remains as the League's most accurate quarterback — and very likely will finish his brilliant NFL career as the most accurate QB ever to play the sport of Pro Football.

Bottom line: the Saints NEED to do every single thing within their power to keep Thomas in NOLA; especially since he's become the one player in the offense (other than Kamara) who is absolutely critical to the team's success, with Brees still playing well enough at his age for New Orleans to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Make no mistake about this much: the Saints rely on Brees and they have done so since his arrival in Free Agency prior to the 2006 Season, and now 13 seasons later, it's Thomas who Brees himself relies on more than he’s ever relied on a receiver. Sure, Brees has had other notable pass-catchers to throw to throughout his tenure in the Black and Gold. such as Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham. But he's never had anyone like Thomas, who in only 3 years time has made himself one of the League's top offensive superstars.

“[Michael is] a game-changer and he knows that I’m counting on him and he knows when I look at him and he’s the guy,” Brees said to reporters last November. “He’s going to get open.” Thomas' work ethic is impeccable; and it's that dedication and devotion at becoming the very best at what he does day in and day out, that has gotten him to this point.

“A walk-through is not a walk-through to [Michael Thomas],” Saints offensive tackle and team captain Terron Armstead recently told The Washington Post back in January. “That really is the one thing that separates him from everybody else. He’s not the fastest. He’s not the tallest. He’s not the strongest. He’s not the quickest. He just outworks everybody on the daily.”

Those quotes from Brees and Armstead aside, the simple fact is that Michael Thomas has put up the production that justifies making him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL. And if that means surpassing Beckham’s 5-year deal that averages out to $18 million annually by a few extra million dollars, than so be it. 

Of course, some Who Dats have been outspoken and quite adamant about "overpaying" Thomas since word of the contract negotiations have been made public , but the reality is that this is something that shouldn't even be questioned. While it's true that the most cap space that team brass has ever used on a pass catcher in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era was the $9 million dollars worth of "dead money" they ate back in 2015 after they traded the disgruntled Graham to Seattle, this is a completely different situation altogether.

One thing to keep in mind: the Saints still will have even more players due to receive new contract offers in the not-too-distant future which will include names such as Kamara, offensive right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety Vonn Bell and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins; the fact remains that the Black and Gold are completely focused on winning right now — especially when you think about the manner in which the Saints and their passionate and loyal fans have had their hearts broken twice after enduring the the "Minneapolis Miracle" and the worst missed call in NFL history in back-to-back years.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The way in which the Saints have been eliminated in the past 2 Playoff appearances is something that most folks wouldn't even think about wishing upon their very worst enemy, especially in the cruel and unnerving manner that both games eventually unfolded.

Which is the whole reason why It's clear that this current Saints team as its currently constructed, is squarely focused on getting to the Super Bowl in the upcoming 2019 NFL Season and erasing the bad memories of the past two years worth of post-season / Playoff heartache.

And it goes without saying: the very LAST thing the Saints organization needs to be worried about, is saving an extra $4 million dollars so that they can remain under the the salary cap. The "window of opportunity" to win another Super Bowl before Brees is ultimately forced to retire, is getting closer and closer with each passing season.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Germano, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Giving Thomas a new deal that pays him $22 million per season might seem like a lot. But even if it actually is by most monetary and frugality standards. it will be worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY if the Saints finally win that elusive 2nd World Championship that's been virtually stolen away from them in back-to-back years.

Quite simply, the Saints need to "just pay Mike" — and do whatever it takes to keep him in NOLA for now and well into the future....


Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer 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 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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