The Saints Options with Michael Thomas

The Saints announced today that wide receiver Michael Thomas was going to miss the rest of the regular season due to injury and now the questions are coming even faster about the Saints options with him in the future. Thomas will have missed 40 of the last 50 games played by the Saints due to injury as his body seems to have broken down following a four year run as one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL.

At this point Thomas’ contract is one of the worst in football. Thomas signed a five year extension with the team in 2019 and has earned just under $60 million in new money for those additional 10 games that he has played following what would have been the expiration of his rookie contract. Due to the Saints salary cap troubles the contract was restructured in each of the three years of the extension for immediate salary cap relief. That has the left the Saints with a $28.26 million salary cap charge in 2023 and $25.452 million in dead money that must be accounted for if he is released.

Given that there should be no reason for Thomas to return next year the Saints should have two options to consider, both resulting in a June 1 designation. I guess the first option is to discuss with Thomas if he wants to continue his NFL career or opt for retirement.  Given the number of injuries it is possible that he may want to step away from the game.  If that was the case the Saints would reduce his 2023 salary to the minimum ($1.165 million) which in turn would reduce his salary cap number from $28.26 million to $12.978 million, a savings of over $15 million. They would then carry Thomas as an active member of the roster until June 2nd at which point he would be placed on the retired list. His salary cap number would drop down to $11.813 million and the team would defer $13.639 million in dead money to 2024.

The second option deals with cutting Thomas. This would work the same as the option above except they would need to modify the 2023 salary prior to the end of the year. Given that Thomas may be eligible for the CBA injury protection benefit which is $2.05 million in 2023, I would assume that he would want a P5 that is equal to that number for 2023 to protect his eligibility to collect that if the injury does in fact end his career. Thomas, I believe, is also eligible for a 17th game check this year worth $902,000 which he would forfeit if he did this renegotiation so they would need to include that as a signing bonus in a new deal which would increase his 2022 cap number by about $180K.

Under this scenario Thomas’ cap number in 2023 would likely be $14.04 million and they could then designate him a post June 1 release. They would carry Thomas at that cap number until June 1 and on June 2nd it would reduce to $11.993 million (it would subsequently increase to $13.223 million if he did file for the injury protection benefit). The team would defer $14.36 million in dead money to 2024 in this case. If the Saints do not modify his contract before the end of this season then this option will no longer exist.

FWIW the team could also in the retirement scenario pay Thomas the injury protection money as a signing bonus. If they did that it would increase the 2023 dead money by $410,000 and the 2024 dead money by $1.64 million.

In the rare event that the team did want Thomas to return they would have to negotiate a pay cut with incentives that could make up some of the difference. Since Thomas basically did not play this year they can easily move money off the cap for 2023 by using per game playtime bonuses in lieu of salary since Thomas only played in three games in 2022. Given how few games he has played it would probably be best to just move on but this possibility could exist.

The Saints have to use one of these options with Thomas since the alternative, an immediate hit of $25.452 million in dead money, would be a disaster given their 2023 salary cap commitments. Likewise keeping him at his current salary for 2023 and doing another salary conversion for cap relief would also serve no purpose.