The New Orleans Saints and wide receiver Michael Thomas agreed to a restructured contract Friday, per a source, with an eye toward the upcoming league year.
Thomas, who is under contract through the 2024 season, had his base salary in 2023 reduced from $15.5M to $1.165M while adding a $31.755M roster bonus for the 2024 league year that becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2023 league year (March 17, 2023). Thomas also received a signing bonus of $902,941 this week, the equivalent to one extra game check for his original 2022 base salary of $15.35M when the deal was signed (the Saints have restructured the deal on multiple occasions).
Beyond the bonus of nearly $1M, this renegotiation reinforces that any decision made on Thomas’ future with the franchise will be done expediently, as the team would be unlikely to move on from Thomas if he remains on the roster once the massive roster bonus of nearly $32M becomes guaranteed.
If the team opts to move on from Thomas any time before then, he would enter free agency immediately. If it happens before the start of free agency, Thomas could find a new team ahead of when other free agent-to-be wide receivers can latch on with a new team.
For the Saints, this move allows for flexibility during the start of the league year.
If the team decides to cut Thomas before his roster bonus becomes guaranteed, it would likely do so with a post-June 1 designation. Under the prior terms of the deal, the team would have had to carry Thomas’ $15.5M salary on its salary cap until June 2 before eventually getting cap relief.
With his salary reduced, the team has over $14M in additional cap flexibility that will be critical for a franchise currently projected to be tens of millions of dollars over the cap. Any release of Thomas will result in a total dead-cap charge of close to $26M.
If the team decides to keep Thomas, it would still realize the cap savings for 2023 but would see a major spike in its financial commitment to Thomas in 2024 with the roster bonus of nearly $32M on the books.
After setting the NFL record for most catches in a single season in 2019 with 149, Thomas has been limited by injuries to just 10 games over the past three seasons.
Thomas, who turns 30 on March 3, was a 2016 second-round pick for the Saints and set the franchise record for rookie receiving yards with 1,137 yards in his first season. Thomas was a pivotal part of the New Orleans offense for four seasons but was injured in the 2020 season opener after a teammate rolled up on his ankle.
Thomas has battled injuries since his record-setting 2019 season, when he earned NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. He had a public dispute with the team over the timing of his ankle surgery before the 2021 season. Thomas was put on the physically unable to perform list to start that season, and a setback kept him from returning.
“I mean, even the year that I played [a total of nine games in 2020], I was playing injured, and I was still kind of helping this team win games and move the chains. And I was clearly on one ankle,” Thomas said at the beginning of this season, publicly addressing the incident for the first time.
Thomas and the team seemed to have smoothed things over after new Saints coach Dennis Allen flew out to see him in the 2022 offseason. Thomas started the 2022 season healthy and caught three touchdowns in the first two games, but a toe injury ended his season.
The Saints drafted wide receiver Chris Olave in the first round of the 2022 draft, and Olave, who at one point was a contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year, has set the stage to be a potential successor for Thomas with 982 yards this year.
Information from ESPN’s Katherine Terrell was used in this report.