Michael Thomas is the best wide receiver in the NFL. One could try to argue against this point, but you’d fail miserably. He may not be flashy and you may be disappointed if you’re looking for choreographed touchdown celebrations, but if you’re interested in straight productivity he’s your guy. If you look at the 2019 NFL stats for wide receivers there’s Michael Thomas at total receptions and yards and then the grand canyon until you see the next player. The only reason he doesn’t lead the league in TD receptions (he had 9 and the league leader had 11) is most-likely because the Saints do a pretty good job of spreading the wealth in the red zone. In 2019, Thomas had an NFL-record 149 receptions (second in the league was Christian McCaffrey with 116) and a whopping 1,725 yards receiving (second in the league was Julio Jones with 1,394). As we were saying, you could try and make the argument there is someone close to him, but you’d lose. As with most industries, the best of the best get rewarded with fitting compensation, which is why Michael Thomas is the highest-paid receiver in the NFL.
In the summer of 2019, “Can’t Guard Mike” became the first non-quarterback in the NFL to get a $100 million contract. After a brief holdout, the Saints gifted the league’s best with a 5-year, $100 million contract that included $61 million in guaranteed money. As stated, it made #13 the highest-paid receiver in football and the only skill position player with a contract over $100 million. Comparatively speaking, Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. received a $90 million contract, Buccaneers WR Mike Evans got $82.5 million and both Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins and Rams WR Brandin Cooks both received $81 million. There’s absolutely no arguing the logic here by New Orleans either as he’s only 26-years old and is now locked up for the next 4 years (after the 2019 season). Needless to say, the Saints will have their marquee wide receiver in the prime of his career.
Bargain to Breakout
Up until the new contract the Saints had Thomas at a bargain still playing on his rookie contract which was a 4-year, $5.11 million deal with just $2.6 million in guarantees. One could point a finger at his agent for such an abysmal first contract, but we aren’t experts in the field so we’ll leave it at that. Regardless of the contract, Thomas went out and balled to earn himself that payday. He sent NFL and franchise records for most receptions by a wide receiver in their first three years in the league. #13 is a reception machine having lead the league in 2018 as well with 125 catches. That marks two straight years of leading the league, but what is really most-remarkable is Thomas didn’t have Drew Brees for a good chunk of his record-setting 2019 season. He’s also already in the top 5 in receiving yards in franchise history in his short career. As long as Brees is at the helm, which figures to be a few more years, Thomas will shatter Saints receiving records.
The Contract Details
Getting back to his lucrative contract, included in his $100 million is a signing bonus of $20 million spread out of 4 years. Over the life of his contract he will average $19.25 million per year (only Julio Jones gets paid more PER year at $22 million at the wide receiver position). Outside of his base salary and $20 million signing bonus, he has $2 million in roster bonuses that start in 2022 and $800,000 in workout bonuses which start in 2021. His salary cap hit for the New Orleans Saints looks like this – $15 million in 2020, $16.8 million in 2021, $19.8 million in 2022, $20.45 million in 2023 and $19.7 million in 2024. He has some funky language in his contract for the 2023 and 2024 seasons. Thomas will receive an additional $375,000 for each of the following – 12 TDs, 1,400 receiving yards, 1,400 receiving yards and a playoff birth, 100 receptions and 100 receptions and a playoff birth. There’s no telling what the state of the Saints will be by then, but we as fans often don’t realize these guys are always playing for extra money to put up stats. Something to remember when you’ve got a guy on your fantasy football team, he’s interested in scoring that TD just as much as you are.
After the 2024 season Michael Thomas will be 31-years old and eligible for free-agency. It’s impossible to speculate at this time what the future holds for him, but he just has a feel that he’s a Saint for life. The Ohio State product looks like an absolute steal as the 47th pick in the 2016 draft. But what is more important is that #13 is paving a new path for skill position players in the NFL. We’ve seen quarterback salaries dramatically increase so it’s only fitting that the guys they are throwing the ball to are paid in kind. As the NFL moves on from veterans like Tom Brady, Frank Gore and Larry Fitzgerald etc., the new crop of players like Lamar Jackson, Saquon Barkley and Michael Thomas seem to be poised to carry the torch into the new era. Unfortunately for owners, that torch comes with a lot of 0’s.