On Friday, the somewhat belated report of Michael Thomas’s ankle surgery hit the NFL news waves and Saints fans were understandably upset. The severity of Thomas’s injury, coupled with the timing of his surgery and expected recovery, blindsided many; even those who clearly remember Thomas’s struggles after suffering a high ankle sprain in the waning minutes of the New Orleans Saints’ Week 1 win against the Buccaneers.
Mike Triplett, from ESPN, wrote way back in January that Thomas would likely need not one, but multiple surgeries. For all we know, the June surgery could have been Thomas’ second, or even third, surgery to repair multiple torn ligaments in his ankle. After breaking an NFL record for most catches the season before, Thomas registered a pedestrian 40 receptions with no touchdowns while hampered by the lingering injury last season.
It was reported to Triplett that Thomas desperately wanted to be available for Drew Brees as he knew it could be their last season together. It appears Thomas chose to play the whole season on one leg with almost no practice time and the aid of pain medication simply because he wanted to compete with Brees and try to win a Super Bowl together.
That’s admirable, and Thomas deserves a tip of the cap for gutting out a long season without the necessary medical intervention of shelving him and sending him straight to surgery. It’s also understandable in such a competitive sport that’s nearly 100% injury prone.
What’s harder to understand is the seemingly delayed timing of this latest procedure and I wasn’t the only inquiring mind. While most fans wondered why Thomas waited until June to get a surgery that requires at least 4 months of recovery, T-Bob Hebert took the line of questioning a step further.
What I'm so confused about is why didn't Mike Thomas show up for that 2nd evaluation? He is paid 20M a year and theres no way he thought he was fully healthy— T-Bob Hebert (@TBob53) July 26, 2021
Just can't understand not showing up
After reading the comments, it was clear I wasn’t the only person who immediately thought of Scottie Pippen when learning about Thomas’ surgery schedule. In 1997, Pippen was set to enter the final year of his infamously underpaid $18 million contract he regretfully signed back in 1991.
After rupturing a tendon in his ankle at the end of the previous season, Pippen waited months to get surgery instead of right after the season ended. This caused him to miss the first half the 1997 season, much to the chagrin of his teammate Michael Jordan.
“I had a ruptured tendon in my ankle, and I decided to have surgery late because I was like, ‘You know what? I’m not gonna f—k my summer up trying to rehab for a season, you know?’” Pippen said in The Last Dance. “They’re not gonna be looking forward to having me, so I’mma enjoy my summer, and I’ll use the season to prepare.”
I’m not gonna lie, my initial thought was that this was Thomas’s modus operandi. But before anyone casts stones, we must remember that everyone’s private medical history should remain exactly that...private. Besides, it’s not like we are living in a normal health care setting at the moment.
Cases are rising so fast in New Orleans, several hospitals are beginning to stop offering elective surgeries. It hasn’t been an easy year to get into any doctor’s office, period. Even an NFL superstar probably had to abide by all the same rules and regulations us common folk do. Plus, if Thomas did in fact need multiple surgeries, it’s reasonable to assume he did begin the process months ago, and it’s simply taking as long as it’s supposed to.
Because the Saints front office didn’t decide to sign another wide receiver, former Patriot Chris Hogan, until this week, it’s reasonable to assume the team was just as blindsided by Thomas’ recovery schedule.
Equally perturbed, must be dueling quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston; both of whom could have used a strong-handed, precise route-running #1 wide receiver. Neither quarterback is signed past 2021, so this is each player’s lone season to prove to the Saints’ front office that one of them can be Brees’s heir apparent.
Now that Thomas will be placed on the PUP list, he won’t be able to return to action until halfway through this season. That will only give the starting quarterback 10 games to manifest synergy with one of the top receivers in the entire league.
To make matters more dire, Thomas’s dead cap declines by $10 million after 2021. This makes next offseason the first potential out if the Saints decide to move on from Thomas through either trade or release. That means this season is just as important for Thomas to make a stronger impact and justify being paid over $19 million per season.
Did Thomas master-mind postponing his ankle surgeries so that he could collect his $12.8 million 2021 salary while resting on the shelf for half a season? Did he do it so he could delay his chemistry building with either of his possible future quarterbacks, therefore making it easier for the team to move on from him when his annual salary skyrockets in 2022?
We’ll probably never know the answers to these questions, but when it comes to the question of whether or not Michael Thomas cares about the New Orleans community, the answer was made clear at his latest food giveaway.
Grocery giveaway sponsored by Michael Thomas going on today. He bought enough food to feed 500 families pic.twitter.com/L6nZFJ80uX— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) July 24, 2021
Thomas will only have the second half of this season to prove to his teammates and coaches that he can be the Michael Thomas we all came to know and love as Saints fans.