‘So far, so good’ for Michael Thomas after frustrating 2020 season

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It’s tough to think of a New Orleans Saints player who endured a more disappointing 2020 season than Michael Thomas. 2019’s Offensive Player of the Year was cut down by an injury in mop-up duty during the season opener, which turned out to be worse than it appeared and resulted in him bouncing on and off of the injured reserve list — when he wasn’t benched for lashing out at teammates on the practice field.

His injured ankle led to expectations of offseason surgery, so the Saints training staff are still monitoring his condition to make sure he’ll receive a green light for full contact in training camp later this summer. When asked about the All-Pro wideout’s progress on Thursday, Saints coach Sean Payton told NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill, “So far, so good.”

Thomas was Drew Brees’ favorite target over the first four years of his career, proving to be a reliable weapon and a champion of contested-catch situations. But things got off track after his Week 1 injury; he posted statistical worsts not just in volume stats (which would be expected due to missed time) but in efficiency metrics like yards gained per reception (11.0) and yards gained after contact per catch (2.1).

There are some reasons for optimism moving forward, though. We got a good look at how Thomas could be used with a stronger-armed quarterback than Drew Brees across Taysom Hill’s four starts, when Thomas saw a higher average depth of target (10.5) than in five games with Brees (7.9), including the playoffs and the handful of targets he saw when Jameis Winston relieved Brees at halftime in Week 10. When the offense was purposefully designed with a different passer in mind, Thomas was given more opportunities to compete at greater depth downfield, and he responded well. More of that should be in store with Hill and Winston going head-to-head for the full-time job.

Hopefully this early abundance of caution in the spring leads to more of what we’re used to from Thomas in the fall. He’s been one of the NFL’s premier receivers ever since he stepped into the lineup with New Orleans, and he should continue to be a go-to target with someone else under center.

For anyone still wondering if No. 13 could be traded (like past number one pass-catchers in New Orleans like Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks were before him), that’s not going to happen until after June 1, 2022 at the soonest, following his contract restructure earlier this year. Maybe there’s still friction behind the scenes, but for now both sides have agreed to focus on the upcoming season. Hopefully it all plays out better for them than it did the Falcons and Julio Jones.

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