It’s supposedly only the smallest of detours — like having to briefly merge because of a single city truck in the right lane — but still no New Orleans Saints fan wanted to hear that Michael Thomas is currently injured. He’s been out since Saturday due to a hamstring injury.
It wasn’t that long ago when Michael Thomas was arguably the most dependable wide receiver in the NFL. He was Drew Brees’ favorite target and the rhythm that those two had helped keep the Saints near the top of the NFC. It was clear in 2020 that Brees’ team as an NFL starting quarterback would be done at the completion of that season. Still, the Saints would have Thomas as a No. 1 wide receiver, Alvin Kamara at running back and Sean Payton directing everything from the sidelines.
Except Thomas had to deal with his first significant injury as a professional in 2020. He injured his ankle Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He finished the game but would miss the next six — one of those games was a team suspension for punching one of his teammates during practice. Thomas returned to the lineup in a road game, again against the Buccaneers, and his play ele was solid, but his ankle ele was still an issue, so the Saints sat him down for the rest of the season starting Week 13.
The controversy began when Thomas elected to have surgery on the ankle in July 2021. Payton was openly unhappy, and said during pre-training camp press conference, “[The surgery] should’ve happened sooner.”
It was 2021 so of course Thomas put out a cryptic social media post and it led to some speculation about his future with the Saints. He and Payton reportedly made up, but Thomas’ ankle never did heal properly and he ended up missing the entire season.
Now there’s no Brees or Payton in New Orleans. The one season that the Saints went without Payton in 2012 was their first losing one in five years. Now he’s gone for good, Jameis Winston is again the starting quarterback after missing most of last season due to a torn ACL, and Kamara ran the ball 240 times and only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Two young wide receivers, Deonte Harty and Marquez Callaway, showed ability last year, and probably would have been better if the Saints weren’t forced to start four different quarterbacks.
Even with all of last season’s problems, the Saints finished 9-8. They have a good shot at a wild-card spot this year, but with two members of their version of “The Triplets” no longer with the franchise, Thomas has to pick up where he left off before the injury and be the player that led the NFL in receptions in 2018 and 2019.
Reports from camp were that he was playing extremely well. He was lighting up the Saints’ defensive backfield that was fourth in Pass DVOA in 2021. During joint practice with the Green Bay Packers, not much changed according to Saints’ reporter Nick Underhill.
Then a few days later, the hamstring injury temporarily halted what looked like the beginnings of a tremendous comeback season.
Hopefully it’s just his body getting used to playing football and he’s getting it out of the way early before the real games begin two weeks from Sunday. But if the Saints want to reach the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons, they need Thomas to return to his dependable 100-reception ways.