The new era of the New Orleans Saints hit a massive speed bump as we race toward the 2021 season.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday that star receiver Michael Thomas is expected to miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery to repair the ligaments in his ankle in June, per sources informed of the situation.
Rapoport added that the roughly four-month recovery timetable could keep Thomas on the sideline weeks into the season. The Saints' bye comes in Week 6 after games versus Green Bay, Carolina, New England, New York Giants, and Washington.
Already preparing to usher in the post-Drew Brees era, the Saints' offense was projected to take a step back regardless of who won the starting QB battle, Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill. Thomas' injury now makes life even harder on whichever quarterback swipes the job.
Despite the past two drafts having a boatload of high-end receiver talent, the Saints haven't sunk assets into the position early in either year -- 2021 seventh-rounder Kawaan Baker is the only WR they've selected. In addition, the salary cap-strapped Saints didn't upgrade the position in free agency either while losing Emmanuel Sanders.
With Thomas out to start the 2021 campaign, the Saints currently have Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris atop their receiving corps. After years of leaning on Thomas heavily, the Saints will start the season with the thinnest wideout group in the league.
NFL Network's Mike Garafolo added that in light of the Thomas news, the Saints have been checking in on available free-agent wide receivers, per sources informed of the situation. They could hold a few workouts in the coming days.
The news throws a twist into the QB battle as well. It's possible Sean Payton could elect to start the dual-threat Hill and run a ground-heavy offense. Thomas' absence would theoretically have a greater effect on an offense guided by a pocket-passer like Winston. With the Saints opening training camp on July 27, we'll see how much the injury affects Payton's plans.
Either way, Thomas missing the start of the season is a blow to whichever QB wins the gig. It's a heck of a way to begin the post-Brees area.
We learned back in January that Thomas was expected to have two surgeries on his ankle, both upper and lower. The Pro Bowl wideout missed nine games in 2020 due to the ankle injury and team discipline. Thomas was placed on injured reserve for the final three weeks of the regular season before returning for two playoff tilts.
After suffering the injury in Week 1, Thomas' entire campaign was off tilt due to the issue. Playing through injuries, he compiled 438 yards on 40 catches with zero touchdowns in seven games played -- all by far career lows.
Authoring back-to-back first-team All-Pro seasons in 2018-2019, Thomas was a catch machine, leading the league in receptions in back-to-back years. He set the NFL's single-season reception record (149) in 2019 after signing a five-year $96.25 million extension.
As Brees' go-to target, Thomas was a slant maven, dominating defensive backs off the line of scrimmage and moving the chains with ease. The slant pass from Brees to Thomas was the most unstoppable play for a two-year run, particularly on third downs. The ankle injury wiped out much of the effectiveness of the combo last season.
The 2020 season marked a low point in Thomas' career, as it was the first time he didn't reach the 1,000-yard plateau. Slated to miss the start of the 2021 season, the All-Pro receiver could see two straight seasons of subpar results due to injury.