After setting the single-season league record for catches in 2019 (149), New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas had a disappointing 2020 campaign. A Week 1 ankle injury lingered all season, with discipline for punching a teammate and a hamstring injury mixed in.
Before his return to action on Week 9, trade speculation surfaced surrounding Thomas. He was placed on IR after Week 14, but returned for the playoffs.
In seven regular season games, Thomas totaled 40 catches for 438 yards without a touchdown. He ended his scoring drought in the Wild Card Round against the Chicago Bears (five catches for 73 yards), but he ended the season with a whimper (zero catches on four targets) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round.
To say the Saints are in salary cap trouble would be putting it lightly. The low-end scenario ($175 million) is not likely, and Over The Cap still has a $176 million projection. But for the Saints, who are over $100 million in the red based on that low-end projection, it’s a distinction with no difference.
Some cuts will be easy for the Saints, and others decisions will be tougher. But there’s no denying Thomas’ $18.8 million cap hit for 2021, as part of the five-year, $100 million deal he signed.
Trading Thomas would leave the Saints with a $20 million dead money hit. But as Pro Football Talk noted at the time of the trade speculation in October, they would also take his $12.6 million in salary off the books. So the net impact is $7.4 million.
It’s not likely the Saints will trade Thomas, and any new speculation will surely be met with denials from head coach Sean Payton, etc. But it is possible, and these five teams could consider making an offer.
5 Possible Trade Destinations for Michael Thomas
5. New England Patriots
The Patriots can never be ruled out in these situations, and in parallel with finding a quarterback this offseason wide receiver is a major need. With over $57 million in cap space right now (according to Over The Cap), Bill Belichick is well-equipped for a roster reload.
Thomas’ trade value is at a hypothetical low right now, which feels like a perfect scenario to land in New England.
4. Washington Football Team
Washington is one year into a culture change, spearheaded by head coach Ron Rivera. Last offseason’s pursuit of wide receiver Amari Cooper in free agency, with a bigger offer than he took to return to Dallas, shows the clear change in expectations for the franchise.
Washington has to figure out who their quarterback will be next season and beyond. There are plenty of options in front of them, with cap space ($35 million, via Over The Cap) to make a lot of them realistic. But they could also use a wide receiver to pair with Terry McLaurin, and free agency will offer a deep set of options there too.
A trade for Thomas may come down to a cost comparison for Washington. Who or what would be sent back to the Saints is a factor, compared to just signing someone who’s a little cheaper (and not as good?) in free agency. It’s worth noting that Thomas’ contract gets easier to get out of after this year.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Another offseason, another offseason the Colts are going into with among the most cap space in the league. The retirement of Philip Rivers leaves them in search of a quarterback again, but with nearly $65 million in cap space right now the Colts can make any move they need to fill needs.
T.Y. Hilton is headed for free agency, and while a return is possible he’s no longer a No. 1 wide receiver. Michael Pittman Jr. is a keeper, and hopefully Parris Campbell will be healthy, but the Colts will be in the mix for virtually any available top-end wide receiver this offseason. A run at Thomas shouldn’t be ruled out.
2. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins dedicated much of their spending last offseason to the defense, with results that backed up the investment. This offseason, whether they stick with Tua Tagovailoa or make a move for Deshaun Watson at quarterback, a shift to the offense is natural-running back and wide receiver in particular.
Miami has two first-round picks this year, and more extra picks they’ve accumulated via trades. DeVante Parker is a good wide receiver, but he’s not a No. 1 and someone who is has to be on the Dolphins’ radar. They can make an offer for Thomas the Saints would have a hard time turning away from.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Given his college track record, Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer won’t want to enter the NFL with a bad record in his first season. Armed with extra draft picks and the most cap space in the league, Jacksonville could be very active this offseason.
Meyer also recruited Thomas to Ohio State, so the fit is natural there. Thomas congratulated Meyer on getting the Jaguars’ job, with a sub-tweet that could be read a certain way.
If Meyer wants Thomas, and the Saints are at all open to moving him, a deal could be done easily and more quickly than you might think.