Michael Thomas is being a real thorn in the New Orleans Saints‘ side right now. You could even say he’s been this way dating back to last season.
Thomas, the team’s star wideout, suffered an ankle injury in last season’s opener at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He never really recovered from that ailment, going on to play in just Weeks 9-14 of the 2020 campaign, though he did make it back for the playoffs (of course).
Coming off a record-setting 2019 season and an extension, it seems as if No. 13 has become complacent since those events occurred, letting his ankle situation play out and not proactively seeking treatment right away (surgery) for a faster healing process. Thus, the current predicament.
The Saints have been willing to part ways with stars who don’t comply with the culture Sean Payton is trying to build
But Sean Payton is not just about to let one star and his ego get the better of a culture he’s trying to maintain in a post-Brees era.
In fact, the Saints’ head coach was quite frank in his response to Thomas’ injury situation:
"“Obviously with hindsight we would’ve preferred that surgery to be earlier in February or March. But it wasn’t. You know, it is what it is. And hopefully he’s had a good result so far, and hopefully we’ll get him back sooner rather than later.”"
Yes, the offensive guru coach would like to have his best receiving weapon back for whichever of Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill wins the starting QB job. That would be ideal. But he’s also made it clear that the other depth options on the roster at receiver will suffice for now.
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There’s precedent for the Saints trading away or releasing players that just don’t fit the current culture. Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham in 2015 and Brandin Cooks in 2017 are three that come to mind. Letting Darren Sproles walk to Philadelphia was another.
Those players were all talented and important playmakers for Drew Brees and Sean Payton. But when it became apparent that those players didn’t fit the team’s goals anymore, the Saints sent them packing.
So why should that change for Michael Thomas?
They gave him a contract extension, sure. He’s also the best receiver on the team, so parting ways with him would be a gut punch to a shallow receiver room. But what matters more to Sean Payton? Individual players or maintaining a culture? I’m certainly inclined to say the latter, and there’s precedence to prove such a thing.
This is not to say that the Saints should or will trade Michael Thomas. But it’s more than clear that he’s become a culture disruptor with the handling of this injury, and history suggests don’t be surprised when the Saints move on from MT13.