The Cost to Trade Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints sent out a tweet this morning that seemed to indicate further unhappiness with the Saints organization and that has brought about questions concerning his future.

The tweet would seem to be in reference to the Saints likely leaking that Thomas did not keep in contact with the Saints this offseason and then having surgery seemingly late in the process. Rumblings of Thomas’ unhappiness with the Saints started last year so it is natural for people to assume he continues to be upset with the team.

Thomas signed a five year contract extension in 2019 which is worth $19.25 million per year and contained around $60 million in guarantees. Due to the Saints need for salary cap relief they restructured Thomas’ contract this year and have already committed to pay him $11.6 million of his original $12.6 million salary regardless of whether or not they would trade him.

The cost to trade Thomas on the salary cap would be $8.9 million this year ($9.1 million if he earned a workout bonus), a savings of just $1 million for the Saints, and $22.7 million next season, a savings of $2 million off his current salary cap figure. Those are very minimal savings for a cap starved team with no real answers at receiver without Thomas. So I would think they would ask quite a lot for him.

The last time the Saints traded a player in a similar situation was when they traded Jimmy Graham for a late 1st round pick just one year after signing him to a contract that made him the highest paid NFL tight end in history. However they did not prepay his salary prior to the trade. The team did pay Junior Gallette a significant amount of money in the offseason in 2015 and then released him in the summer. That would be a much closer financial situation to their situation with Thomas.

It would be hard to picture the team trading Thomas given his importance when healthy but if they have already decided that the situation in not manageable they will likely be able to get more for him now than next year if the situation blows up similar to the Steelers and Antonio Brown where the Steelers received pennies on the dollar for a talented player.

If a team acquired Thomas they would only be on the hook for $1 million this season. The charges in 2022, 2023, and 2024 would all be affordable- $15.8M, $16.45M, and $19.7M,- assuming he does not look for a new contract. Thomas salary next year is guaranteed for injury and is fully guaranteed on the 3rd day of the league year so in theory you could get Thomas for free this year when he returns and then release him if things do not go well. A team would likely look at this as a three year, $33M investment which is dirt cheap for a player of this caliber.

One option for the Saints in a trade would be to acquire another veteran player with the trade partner paying off most of the salary to help offset the fact that the Saints paid Thomas’ salary already. They would also get a draft pick as well in that scenario.

I doubt any of this happens, but hopefully this clears up the salary cap implications of a trade.