Wide receiver Michael Thomas and the New Orleans Saints have been at odds, and it all has to do with his injury. There’s no reason why Thomas shouldn’t have started the season healthy for the Saints. Heck, the injury occurred in Week 1 of last season! So, what went wrong with the All-Pro receiver’s ankle, and when can we expect his return?
How long is Michael Thomas out?
The Saints placed Thomas on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to begin the season, keeping him out until at least Week 7. Since Thomas didn’t participate in training camp, he was eligible to stay on the regular-season PUP list.
Thomas’ extended absence doesn’t come as a surprise to those who are close to the situation. Many believed Thomas would take extra time to come off the PUP list and ramp back up — he hasn’t played or practiced since last December.
Thomas’ injury timeline from the 2020 season
Week 1 (9/13/2020): Thomas initially injured his ankle. He suffers a torn deltoid while also injuring other ligaments. He needs surgery to heal fully, but he doesn’t want to miss out on helping quarterback Drew Brees win another Super Bowl before he retires. Thomas knows he has to miss games but would rather play at far less than 100% than get surgery and miss Brees’ last season.
Week 5: Thomas is back practicing and looking to possibly play against the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football. However, he punches Chauncey Gardner-Johnson during practice, and the Saints suspend and fine their star receiver for the game.
Thus begins the rift between Thomas and the franchise that’d continue to the present.
Week 8 (11/8/2020): Thomas returns to action after the bye week and matches up against the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He catches 5 passes on 6 targets for 51 yards. He would play for the next six weeks before finishing the regular season on injured reserve (IR).
Wild Card Weekend (01/10/2021): Thomas returns from IR to catch 5 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears. He did not record a catch in the Saints’ next game, where they’d lose to the Buccaneers.
Season’s end: The Saints ask Thomas to undergo surgery on his ailing ankle. Yet, the begrudged wide receiver seeks a second opinion. He opts to forgo surgery and rehab the injury instead.
2021 NFL offseason to now
March: Thomas sits down with the team to discuss options. He must hit physical benchmarks to continue his non-surgical rehab.
June: It’s summer, and Thomas returns to the team still with the injury. The team lost communication with the star receiver after their March meeting. Now, it was clear Thomas needed surgery — a procedure that could take four months to recover from.
August 27: Thomas sues the landlord of the $60,000/month rental property he stayed at during his rehabilitation hiatus. Maybe the non-surgical option didn’t work out because the vibes were off. Nonetheless, the receiver claims the multiple malfunctions in the house and surprise pop-ins from the landlord’s representative negatively affected his career. He’s seeking $1 million in damages.
Saints’ offense is struggling without Thomas
The Saints are in a bad way without Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith. Smith should be back sooner rather than later, but Thomas still has a few weeks left before he can help Jameis Winston and this passing attack on Sundays.
It’s been ugly since Week 2 for New Orleans’ offense. After the Packers decided the NFL season was still going to be a 16-game season, the Saints haven’t shown anything in the passing attack. By all accounts, it appears Sean Payton is hiding Winston offensively.
Alvin Kamara looks like a backpack guy, right? Well, he better be because he’s strapped on his Jansport and gone to work this year — he is accounting for 42.8% of the offense’s rushing attempts and targets.
The Saints’ defense allows Payton to play… conservatively… for now. But there is no way that relying so heavily on the run game is sustainable long-term. Winston is going to have to be allowed to fail in order to succeed.
He’s made some great throws so far in 2021, and he’s slashed his interception rate nearly in half from his historic 2019 campaign!
The weird part is that the Saints are eighth in dropback EPA/play through their first five games. Conversely, they’re just 23rd in rushing EPA/play. So the Saints are already efficient in the more efficient mode of offense, yet they’re running the ball 57.6% of the time?
Hopefully, Thomas returns within three weeks, and Payton finally starts letting Winston sling it. That’s all we want, Sean, because every Jameis dropback is gifted entertainment.