"If things don't work out, if Thomas' production starts to decline, or if he becomes injury-prone, the Saints can get rid of him after three years, and they won't be on the hook to pay him the rest of the $39 million on that huge contract."
Not that long ago, I wrote a column about Michael Thomas and his desire to become the highest-paid receiver in NFL history.
In that piece, I stated how reports indicated that Thomas wanted $22 million a year and that the Saints only wanted to pay him $18 million. At the conclusion of the column, I said that I hoped the teams could meet in the middle and make an agreement at $19-20 million.
Well, that's exactly what happened last week. The Saints didn't pay Thomas $22 million a year, but they did make him the highest-paid receiver in NFL history. They offered Thomas a five-year, $100-million contract, and Thomas gladly accepted.
So, the $20-million question is: Did Thomas deserve this massive, record-breaking deal.
In my eyes, yes. Yes, he did.
Granted, if that per-year price tag went any higher than that $20-million mark, I would say no. He certainly wouldn't be worth $22 million.
It doesn't sound like a big difference. However, when you do the simple math, you see that, that would have cost the Saints an extra $10 million. When it comes to the salary cap, every million counts.
You have to be happy for Thomas. He has proven to be a legitimate top-five receiver in the league. Yet, he's still on his rookie contract. That means he's set to make $1.15 million this season. Compared to the money other receivers in the league are making, that's peanuts.
If you listen to anyone that is present at Saints practices, they'll tell you that outside of Drew Brees, Thomas is the hardest worker on the team. He approaches every practice like it's a playoff game.
From all indications, Thomas is also a tremendous teammate. You'll never hear a player say one bad thing about him.
Sure, he'll do some flexing after making a big first-down grab, and sure, there was that unnecessary Joe Horn cell-phone celebration in last year's Rams game, but that's where the diva side of him ends.
He's not flashy off of the field. He's not a me-first guy. He's not a malcontent that disrupts the locker room.
And when you get him on the field, he makes plays. He set an NFL record for most receptions for a receiver in their first three seasons with 321, and he has had at least 1,137 yards in all three of those years.
Last year, he set the new franchise record for most receiving yards in a single season with 1,400.
And he is so valuable to the Saints' offense. If he wasn't in the lineup, New Orleans is not a blown call away from making it to the Super Bowl. With no Thomas, they probably don't even make the playoffs.
In the latter stages of last season, his importance was easy to see. Teams began to game-plan to stop him and force the Saints' other receivers to step up. Unfortunately for New Orleans, those other receivers were not very consistent. When Thomas was being double-teamed and we were begging for them to break out, they often didn't.
The $20 million a year sounds like a lot, and believe me, it is, but the market is constantly changing.
That used to be quarterback money, but not anymore. These days, elite quarterbacks bring in a yearly salary close to and sometimes exceeding $30 million. Russell Wilson makes a whopping $35 million per season.
Thomas' new contract is slightly better than the previous record-holder Odell Beckham Jr.'s $18-million per-year salary.
But Thomas won't hold that title for long. Julio Jones will probably surpass him when he finally gets his new contract. Within the next few years, there will probably be several guys making more than him.
The most important number in all of this is Thomas' guaranteed $61 million. This is a good number for the Saints.
If things don't work out, if Thomas' production starts to decline, or if he becomes injury-prone, the Saints can get rid of him after three years, and they won't be on the hook to pay him the rest of the $39 million on that huge contract.
However, if Thomas continues to perform like he has, then they'll know they have one of the best receivers in the league in their back pocket for the next five years. It's a win-win.