Michael Thomas was set to make $1.148 million this season. He held out of training camp to push the Saints toward offering him a new deal that would pay him closer to his worth. The move paid dividends worth millions as the Saints inked Thomas to a five year contract extension worth $100 million, with $61 million guaranteed.
Since entering the league in 2016, Thomas has broken almost every record a wide receiver can. During his rookie season, Thomas broke franchise records for catches (92), yards (1,137), and touchdowns (nine). But, he was just getting started.
Thomas also broke the NFL’s all time record for receptions through his first three seasons by catching an eye-popping 321 receptions for 3,787 yards and 23 touchdowns. Last year, he had the highest catch rate ever (85%) with 125 receptions on 147 targets, and moved the sticks better than every player but two with his 75 first downs.
It’s obvious Thomas is a special talent, but many assumed his generational level of play was at least partly due to having the luxury of Drew Brees as his quarterback. After all, there have been a few receivers over the years who were stars with Brees, but not so much with other signal callers.
Robert Meachem averaged 43 receptions, 660 yards, and 6.6 touchdowns while catching passes from Brees from 2009 to 2011. That consistency convinced the Chargers to lure Meachem away in free agency, but his 14 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns in 2012 led the Chargers to release him after a single season.
Lance Moore’s best season in 2012, where he compiled 65 receptions for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns, proved to be his peak. Following a more pedestrian 2013 season with the Saints, Moore had even less impressive performances in single consecutive seasons catching passes from the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and the Lions’ Matthew Stafford.
Jimmy Graham averaged 89 receptions, 1099 yards, and 11.5 touchdowns while paired with Brees from 2011 to 2014. While paired with the Seahawk’s Russell Wilson, Graham averaged 57 receptions, 683 yards, and six touchdowns over three seasons. While paired with Aaron Rodgers, Graham had 55 receptions, 636 yards, and two touchdowns last year. He is on pace for roughly 39 receptions, 460 yards, and six or seven touchdowns this year.
These receivers flourished on the Saints while catching passes from Brees, but they couldn’t replicate the same results with other quarterbacks across the league. And, it’s not like they were catching passes from terrible quarterbacks either.
Some of those quarterbacks might also end up alongside Brees in the Hall of Fame including Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and even Matthew Stafford who just recently became the fastest player to reach 40,000 career passing yards.
It’s obviously way too early to make all time great projections for Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but it’s equally obvious he’s not on Brees’ level quite yet. Still, that hasn’t stopped Thomas from putting up nearly identical numbers to his first three elite seasons.
Through seven games, including five and a half with Bridgewater as quarterback, Thomas is on pace for a ridiculous 133 receptions, 1,635 yards, 79 first downs, and six to seven touchdowns. CSC’s own Deuce Windham brought to light just how historic Thomas’ transcendent play has been.
WRs since 1992 (when catch % was tracked) who have at least 50 receptions and 75%+ completion percentage in a season.— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) October 21, 2019
Michael Thomas has 3 such seasons (counting this year). Only one with 3.
MT & John Taylor only WRs w/ 85% season (2018). #Saints paid for the best. Got it. pic.twitter.com/F3jB9wnFcr
Yesterday, Ian Rapoport posted some of Thomas’ stats and even mentioned him as a possibility for league MVP.
As the MVP discussion heats up, I wondered about #Saints WR Michael Thomas’ role keeping them rolling with Drew Brees out. So I asked @NFLResearch. Turns out, Thomas’ production has been identical with Brees and Teddy Bridgewater. Hugely valuable. pic.twitter.com/rGef0k3jsT— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 22, 2019
Not only has Thomas seemingly elevated his play during Brees’ absence, perhaps no other player in the league has as much off-ball impact as well. Whether he catches the ball or not, Thomas draws so many double teams and/or coverage by his opponent’s best defensive back, his presence alone helps create opportunities for his teammates.
Mickey Loomis should rest easy knowing he gave Thomas one of the richest contracts ever to an offensive player. So far, Thomas has earned every cent of it; and, for most of this half of the season, without one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play.