Michael Thomas is one of the Saints' best and most accomplished players. But tension has seemingly been growing between the two sides for the better part of a year. An injury-riddled 2020 saw Thomas suspended by the team, and the star wide receiver reportedly ignored calls from Saints officials for months after the season. Now, with coach Sean Payton publicly lamenting Thomas delaying an offseason surgery that'll keep him sidelined into the fall, the wideout has implied the Saints are trying to "damage" his reputation.
A year after ProFootballTalk reported the Saints may be willing to trade Thomas, there is no indication the club is actively looking to part ways with its No. 1 pass catcher. But a future split has also never seemed more possible. New Orleans is still built to contend but has survived without Thomas before. The Saints are also kicking off a new era with a new quarterback and still clawing their way out of a salary cap hole; trading Thomas would save them $1.2 million immediately, as well as a whopping $74.7M from 2022-2024.
Potential suitors would obviously be betting on Thomas staying healthy once he returns from rehab, but his contract -- a five-year, $96.3M extension signed in 2019 -- shouldn't be a hold-up, considering he's owed zero guaranteed money after 2021.
So which teams are potential destinations in the event Thomas' apparent Saints feud escalates to the point New Orleans fields offers for its disgruntled star? Here are seven of the most feasible:
General manager Howie Roseman has tried to distance himself from oft-injured veterans, and Thomas feels more like a blockbuster addition for a team ready to win now, but Philly now has $16 million in cap space and counting, recently positioning itself for a sizable move. New coach Nick Sirianni is a WR coach by trade, and what better toy to add for new QB Jalen Hurts than a short-area safety valve like Thomas, who could start opposite rookie DeVonta Smith? Roseman, never one to shy away from a headline-stealing trade (and perhaps eager to make up for a missed swing for DeAndre Hopkins), could always get out of Thomas' big deal in 2022, too.
GM Joe Douglas is more likely to sell than buy, but he's done plenty of the former while also investing in the trenches for new QB Zach Wilson. He's also got nearly $20M at his disposal. With 2020 second-rounder Denzel Mims buried on the depth chart and reportedly available via trade, what better way to boost Wilson's chances of success than by adding a premier counterpart for new starter Corey Davis? Like the Eagles, the Jets could justify this as a potential long-term move, with the option to cut the cord early.
Can you imagine? We can, because somehow the Chiefs consistently find ways to remain video-game dominant. A little salary cap maneuvering would be in order, but it's not like Kansas City couldn't find a spot for him, even if just for one year: Tyreek Hill can play inside and outside, and while Mecole Hardman has flashed, Andy Reid's offense could still use a more proven outside target.
New England just got done spending a combined $124.5 million on new pass catchers Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. But why stop there? None of those guys come close to Thomas as a No. 1 target, and the Pats are obviously intent on competing this year. It helps they play in the AFC, so the Saints could keep Thomas out of sight, and at 28, Thomas is young enough to serve as a running mate for Mac Jones.
They'd need to move some money around to make it work, but they've been sniffing around veteran receivers all offseason in hopes of helping out QB Lamar Jackson. Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins may very well help the aerial game alongside Marquise Brown, but Thomas would be the most natural target for Jackson, especially in a run-heavy, short-area passing attack. Baltimore is obviously also solely focused on winning now, and they reside comfortably outside of the NFC.
Los Angeles is all in on second-year QB Justin Herbert, making big investments to protect the gunslinger this offseason. Giving Herbert another bona fide stud out wide would accelerate the Chargers' hunt to not only make noise in the AFC West but compete for a title. With $17.3M in cap space, they can not only afford Thomas but promise him a return to his home state of California, a better QB situation than in New Orleans, and a place in an already-potent WR corps featuring Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
Jacksonville spent a ton on mostly middling free agents this spring, but the team still has more than enough cap space (an NFL-best $30M) to be bold. They're out of the NFC, which would put the Saints more at ease. They need any true weapons for Trevor Lawrence they can get, even with D.J. Chark established as a starting WR. And best of all, their new coach just happens to be Urban Meyer, who oversaw Thomas' emerging stardom at Ohio State and drew an eyebrow-raising endorsement from Thomas this year.
- Dolphins: They'd need to move some money around, and they've already made two big additions in Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller, but Thomas would be a natural target for new full-time starting QB Tua Tagovailoa.
- 49ers: San Francisco could arguably still use one more big-time pass catcher and has sniffed around veteran additions for years. But the Niners are also in the NFC and have already expended a lot of draft capital for recent moves at QB and OT.
- Raiders: They don't have the money to do it now, but they've tried the veteran trade route before, and they might be desperate to make a splash with time ticking on the Jon Gruden-Mike Mayock regime. Senior offensive assistant John Morton also served as Thomas' WRs coach back in 2016.