PFF ranks Saints receiving corps among NFL’s second tier

The New Orleans Saints revamped their wide receiver room, but PFF still ranks their pass-catching unit in the NFL’s second tier. Here’s why, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

Offensive prowess has always been synonymous with the New Orleans Saints. That is, until their passing game ranked last in yardage in 2021. Now, there’s a bit of a renaissance expected in the wide receiver room that could change that fortune heading into this season, getting the offense’s reputation back on track.

However, despite their revamped unit, the Saints placed in the second tier of Pro Football Focus’s receiving corps rankings. These rankings take into consideration not only wideouts, but tight ends as well. The tight end depth chart may be one of most open units on the New Orleans roster. While it’s reasonable to expect a leap from last year’s production, even the new weapons on the outside barely crack PFF’s top-15 landing at 14. Here’s what PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote of the ranking:

“Offseason additions Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry take the Saints’ receiving corps from one of the thinner groups across the NFL to one with promise, particularly if Michael Thomas returns at full strength.

New Orleans secured an excellent prospect-team fit by snagging Olave the first round, even if they paid a premium to move up and get him. He’s a polished route-runner who can separate downfield. That shows in his 12 touchdowns on throws 20-plus yards downfield across his final two seasons at Ohio State (fourth-most in the FBS). That profile is what New Orleans was missing at wide receiver in 2021.”

Let’s be real, the Saints were missing another huge profile at wide receiver in 2021, that of Thomas. Getting him back (head coach Dennis Allen expects Thomas to return for training camp) along with the additions noted above should be a huge boost for the New Orleans offense. But I don’t think this ranking is unwarranted until the team knows where it’s going and what it has at tight end.

If third-year tight end Adam Trautman can take the step forward most are hoping for, that’s a start. More reps for Juwan Johnson, the converted wide receiver, and a pass-catching role for Taysom Hill, the multifaceted quarterback, could add a series of dynamics and versatility hard for any defense to stop.

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Dennis Allen: Michael Thomas recovery on track, WR ‘doubtful’ for Saints minicamp

Dennis Allen says Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is doubtful for minicamp, but based on previous timelines, that shouldn’t be a concern, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

A bit of a revolution is expected in the New Orleans Saints receiving room this year. A huge part of that is the highly anticipated return of All-Pro wideout and NFL record holder Michael Thomas. Yes, the team made a late splash free agency signing in veteran Jarvis Landry and kicked off their NFL draft class with Ohio State alum Chris Olave. But getting Thomas back out on the field should be priority No. 1 for Dennis Allen and his staff.

According to Allen, the star receiver’s return will hopefully happen during training camp. Meaning that his “doubtful” designation, as Allen shared with Nola.com’s Amie Just, for their upcoming mandatory minicamp from June 14-16 shouldn’t spark concern amongst Saints fans. Thomas recently shared a video of himself running sprints at the Saints’ facility, and the staff looks to be pleased with his progress and dedication.

When asked for details on Thomas’ status and overall recovery timeline, Allen clarified that he’s seeing progress and is “busting his tail to get himself ready to go,” per the Athletic’s Katherine Terrell:

Allen’s optimism around Thomas is great news. The Saints ranked at the bottom of the league last year in passing yardage without him. Not rushing Thomas back is a great call by the organization as well. While it will be exciting to see No. 13 back out on the field, making it happen for the sake of minicamp and risking complications by getting ahead of schedule isn’t worth it.

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Watch: Michael Thomas sprinting at Saints practice facility

Watch: Michael Thomas shares update on injury recovery, now running at Saints practice facility in video

Don’t look now, but Michael Thomas is picking up speed. The New Orleans Saints wide receiver shared a video update to his recovery from a complicated ankle injury and subsequent surgeries. Having spent most of the offseason recovering from a surgical setback in Southern California, Thomas is now back in New Orleans — working with and receiving treatment from the Saints’ training staff.

In the video, originally posted on Thomas’ official Instagram account and shared by NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill, the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year can be seen running at speed from the Saints’ indoor practice facility in Metairie. It’s a far cry from putting on pads and drawing double-digit targets in a playoff game, but this is real progress for a player who has experienced a lot of frustration over the last two years.

Getting Thomas back to his old self for 2022 would be monumental. He was the linchpin of New Orleans’ success in Drew Brees’ final years under center, and the Saints passing game fell apart without him last season. With Thomas sidelined by injury, the team’s lack of depth at wide receiver was exposed on a weekly basis, giving Jameis Winston little to work with.

But now Thomas is on the right path to remind everyone just how impactful he is. And he won’t be doing it alone after the Saints moved to draft Chris Olave and sign Jarvis Landry earlier this spring. Even if it takes some time for Thomas to fully return to form, having him on top of the depth is huge for everyone around him. If everything goes as hoped, maybe he ends up in the conversation for 2022’s Comeback Player of the Year.

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7 observations from the first round of Saints OTAs

The first session of OTAs are in the books for the Saints. Here are seven key observations you’ll want to keep an eye on, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

For the last two years, many NFL teams have spent the May and June months preparing for training camp away from the facilities. This year, organized team activities (OTAs) are back and allowing for a glimpse into every NFL team’s future, including the New Orleans Saints. Already after the first round of OTAs we’ve seen big names return to the facility, some veterans passing on the voluntary workout period, and young rookies standing out.

One thing that’s a clear and recurring trend for the Saints: leadership. On both both sides of the ball we’ve gotten a look at veteran leadership and team culture taking shape. Even first-year players have done well to assert themselves into leadership roles.

There will be two more rounds of OTAs taking place from May 31-June 2 and June 7-10. After that, a mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 14-16 before a short hiatus leads to training camp. Training camp dates will be announced at a later time, which will likely include dates open to the public.

Projecting the Saints’ starting offense before training camp

Some key additions for the New Orleans Saints bring up a new-look offense in 2022, with several new starters projected in the lineup, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

As organized team activities (OTAs) begin around the NFL, important roster battles get started, injured players show their progress, and rookies look to establish themselves. There’s no exception for the New Orleans Saints as the team reports to the facility on Airline Drive. Many of the new additions and standout rookies will be on the offensive side of the ball thanks to the offseason additions of rookie wideout Chris Olave, fellow first-round selection tackle Trevor Penning, and veteran wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

From now through OTAs and the upcoming mandatory minicamp events the Saints offensive roster will look to shake out. Training camp will bring not only a clearer look at the 2022 depth chart, but will certainly provide it’s own intrigue as starters get solidified. Here’s a look at the projected starting Saints offense ahead of training camp and the preseason:

Latest Saints cap moves mean Michael Thomas isn’t going anywhere

The Saints restructuring their contract with Michael Thomas didn’t just save them a lot of salary cap space. It means he isn’t going anywhere any time soon:

Let’s just get this on the record. The New Orleans Saints didn’t just save a lot of salary cap space in restructuring their contract with Michael Thomas — they ensured maybe the best player on their team won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Thomas has been maligned by fans for his decision to put off surgery last summer and his beef with the team, but that’s all in rearview now. The way New Orleans’ contract with Thomas is set up now makes him a cornerstone of the franchise.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers — because the Saints added some void years to Thomas’ contract to spread out his new signing bonus, releasing him before June 1, 2022 would cost them an addition $24.2 million. That’s not happening. Trading or cutting Thomas after that date only brings back his base salary (the veteran’s minimum at just over $1.03 million) and a $200,000 workout bonus. It just isn’t worth it.

You’ve got to look far to see when the Saints could part ways with Thomas and break even. Releasing him after the 2022 season ends but prior to June 1, 2023 would only save them $2.8 million; New Orleans would be paying Thomas a staggering $25.4 million not to play for them. Waiting to offload him until after that date does return more than $16.4 million in cap savings, but it would be surprising to see things get to that stage. He’d have to fall well short of expectations for that to be an option.

And the Saints are betting on a big bounce back for No. 13. They’ve written incentives into his contract for 2023 and 2024 that will pay him $375,000 for meeting each of these performance goals:

  • Scoring 12 touchdowns
  • Surpassing 1,400 receiving yards
  • Surpassing 1,400 receiving yards and clinching a playoff berth
  • Catching 100-plus receptions
  • Catching 100-plus receptions and clinching a playoff berth

So the Saints are expecting Thomas to return to form and reassert himself as one of the best receivers in the NFL. And that would be tremendous if it happens. He’s the ultimate safety net for whichever quarterback starts for New Orleans in 2022, offering the closest thing you’ll find in football to an automatic first down conversion. If he’s motivated to get to work and do his best to help the team, and by all appearances he is, watch out. The Saints have kind of written themselves into a corner if he doesn’t.

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Saints ‘not expected’ to trade Michael Thomas in 2022

Saints ‘not expected’ to trade Michael Thomas in 2022; 2019’s Offensive Player of the Year back in New Orleans, communicating with the team:

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Good news: the New Orleans Saints aren’t anticipated to trade superstar wide receiver Michael Thomas this season, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Rapoport said in a recent TV spot, “Well it seems the curiosity and saga for Michael Thomas, the Saints standout receiver, is coming to a close in a positive way for all parties.”

After missing the better part of two years to an ankle injury, delayed surgery, and subsequent setback, Thomas has spent “considerable time” receiving weekly treatment on his twice-repaired ankle in New York before returning to New Orleans in preparation for 2022. Rapoport adds that Thomas has been updating the Saints on his progress.

That’s a far cry from where both sides were just a year ago, when Thomas inexplicably put off surgery and didn’t return calls from the team for months. It sure sounds like any enmity between Thomas and the Saints left with Sean Payton. He and first-year head coach Dennis Allen appear to be on the same page, and the two-time first team All-Pro receiver is focused on returning to the focal point of New Orleans’ passing attack.

Thomas racked up 1,725 receiving yards in 2019, the last time he was healthy; in 2021, the top three Saints receivers (Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, and Tre’Quan Smith) combined for 1,645 yards on the season. Now it’s up to Allen to hire a receivers coach who can help Thomas return to form, and to bring in a play-calling offensive coordinator who can put him in the best position to make an impact.

Financially, it makes a lot of sense for both sides to bury the hatchet here. Thomas carries a $24.7 million salary cap hit this season — second-highest on the team, most of which is bundled into his $15.35 million base salary. If the Saints cut or trade Thomas prior to June 1, they’ll only save $2 million against the cap (and lose $22.7 million in dead money, for a player not on their roster). They could recoup $15.8 million by waiting until after June 1 to offload him, but what good would that do them after free agency in March and the draft in April?

Instead, look for the Saints to restructure that $15.35 million salary and $450,000 in assorted bonuses into a new signing bonus, which frees up more than $9.8 million against the cap. That could drop Thomas’ cap hit from $24.7 million down to $14.8 million. The downside is it raises his cap hits in 2023 and 2024 by $4.9 million in each year, approaching totals of $30 million in each season. That looks like tough waters to navigate on the surface, but if Thomas stays healthy and productive and on good terms with the team, they can find ways to continue working around it.

So it’s shaping up for another year in black and gold for 2019’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year. The Saints still don’t know who they’ll have dropping back to pass, but it’s awful reassuring to imagine that quarterback (whoever it ends up being) targeting Thomas as often as they can. He’s on track to remind the league on just what they’ve been missing.

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Lions Wire has a bold trade idea centering on Michael Thomas

Lions Wire proposed a bold Michael Thomas trade with the New Orleans Saints, swapping several draft picks and T.J. Hockenson for the All-Pro:

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So this is interesting. Lions Wire’s Jeff Risdon put together an expansive mock offseason for the Detroit Lions, seeing Dan Campbell’s team open up their war chest of draft picks to go trade for big upgrades to their roster. And one of the first items on his hypothetical agenda is a big trade for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas.

Let’s preface by noting there’s no reason to think Thomas is on the trade block. First-year Saints head coach Dennis Allen praised Thomas in his recovery from ankle surgery, though he stopped short of sharing a timeline in which to expect Thomas on the field, saying on WWL Radio Tuesday: “I know he’s working extremely hard to get himself back and ready to go. He’s really committed to the season and looking forward to getting started.”

Now onto the fun stuff. Here’s the trade Risdon proposed that would send Thomas to Detroit, and bring star tight end T.J. Hockenson and several draft picks to New Orleans:

“In exchange for the 28-year-old Thomas, who missed the 2021 season with an injury, the Lions give up TE T.J. Hockenson, their own third-round pick in 2022 and the Rams’ first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft acquired in the Matthew Stafford trade. The Saints also send the Lions a fifth-round pick in 2022 because these sorts of trades invariably include a seemingly superfluous Day 3 pick.”

My gut instinct wasn’t to reject this out of hand. Hockenson is an ascending talent who put up the highest receiving stats per game (averaging 5.1 receptions for 48.6 yards, which would have led the Saints last year) of his career in 2021, though a hand injury cost him the final five weeks of the season. Just 24 years old, he’s a former first round pick the Saints could have through 2023 thanks to his fifth year option. Adam Trautman and Nick Vannett aren’t high-end starters. Hockenson would be a tremendous upgrade.

But how much would the Saints lose in Thomas? Potentially a future Hall of Famer. He started his career on a historic pace, extending Drew Brees’ career by a year or two and putting up numbers few receivers have ever compared to. It sure feels like a lot of fans have forgotten how talented he is when healthy. Losing two years to a complicated ankle injury and bizarrely postponed surgery, which didn’t take as expected, will do that.

On the other hand, the Saints aren’t really in a position to put all of their hopes on Thomas in 2022. They can’t assume that he’ll return and immediately look like the Offensive Player of the Year again. He’s such a competitive player with such a strong resume that it’s tough to bet against him, but there isn’t much precedent for this situation. If they had the opportunity to offload his contract, bring in cheap talent, and load up with draft picks, it might be hard to say no.

And that 2023 Rams pick is awful enticing. Los Angeles has assembled the frailest roster in the league by trading so many of their own picks, building a house of cards that’s just a couple of injuries away from collapse. No team has benefited from better injury luck over the last five years, and no team has needed it worse than L.A. If Stafford or Aaron Donald or Cooper Kupp misses time next season, the Saints could very easily inherit a top-10 selection. It’s something the Rams are prepared to live with if they win a Super Bowl along the way.

With that said, I’m going to need something better than the 66th overall pick in this year’s draft to pull the trigger. Detroit owns the Nos. 2 and 34 picks as well as the Rams’ first rounder, which will be either No. 31 or 32. Bump that 2022 third rounder up to the 34th selection and we just might cut a deal. What do you think? Share your take in our comments section.

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Michael Thomas reacts to Jaguars firing his old college coach Urban Meyer

Michael Thomas reacts to Jaguars firing his old college coach Urban Meyer

The Jacksonville Jaguars ended the Urban Meyer era near midnight on Wednesday, announcing their decision to fire the first-year head coach after a tumultuous series of on-field and off-field incidents illustrated just how badly Meyer was out of his depth in the NFL.

His list of offenses runs long — take your pick between his terrible win-loss record, dubiously qualified hires on his coaching staff, illegal practices in offseason workouts, shenanigans at his bar with a woman who was not his wife during a game week, behind-the-scenes belittling of his assistants, and the latest accusation that he kicked a player during warmups, it was past time for him to go.

But not everyone is celebrating his departure. New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas has long respected Meyer as one of the greatest coaches he ever worked with at Ohio State, and still credits Meyer for much of the success he’s found after turning pro. Thomas responded to the news of Meyer’s dismissal on Twitter, writing:

It’s clear Thomas isn’t happy to see his mentor’s downfall so widely celebrated, and he’s entitled to his own take. But it’s also apparent that he may have had a wildly different experience under Meyer’s tutelage, or else responded better to the brand of coaching Meyer tried and failed to import to the NFL.

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Michael Thomas says he’s out for the 2021 season

Breaking: Michael Thomas says he’s out for the 2021 season

This sucks. New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas announced Wednesday that he will not be back for the remainder of the 2021 season after suffering a setback in his recovery from offseason ankle surgery. He won’t be able to play again this year.

It’s a huge hit to the Saints passing game, which has ranked second-to-last in the NFL without Thomas and with Jameis Winston at the helm. Now they’re both out of the picture. We’ll have to see how far Alvin Kamara, Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill, and their no-name supporting cast can take the team after the Saints failed to make any moves at the NFL trade deadline.

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