Transaction Implication: Goodbye Michael Thomas

by Aaron Stewart · Contracts & Free Agency

On Saturday, January 7th, 2023, the New Orleans Saints announced a restructured contract with wide receiver Michael Thomas. Since 2020, Thomas has played in 10 total games. So why are the Saints and Michael Thomas restructuring his contract, and what does this mean for us in fantasy and dynasty football leagues? Welcome to Transaction Implication!

Welcome to Transaction Implication! This is an offseason series with the goal of helping readers understand roster moves by NFL teams and lay out what this means in our dynasty leagues.

Michael Thomas’ Restructured Contract

There are two details worth noting about Michael Thomas‘ new deal. One, his 2023 salary drops to the league minimum. Second, he now has a $32.76M roster bonus in 2024. $31.78M of his 2024 roster bonus is due March 17th, 2023. In large part because of his huge roster bonus, he carries a $59.45M cap hit in 2024. That is currently the largest in the NFL across ALL positions.

Michael Thomas’ contract via Spotrac

Both the Saints and Michael Thomas are aware that there is no way he plays for the Saints on that salary cap hit in 2024, which means by March 17th, Thomas will no longer be a member of the New Orleans Saints.

What Happens Now With Michael Thomas?

Yes, Michael Thomas averaged 17.0 PPG in three games played in 2022, while securing a 20-percent Target Share. And because of name recognition, somebody will bring in Thomas on a one-year contract and there will be optimism from media and fans alike. Admit it, you know that Thomas on a Patrick Mahomes-led offense will lead to people buying the hype.

Realistically though, Thomas is done being fantasy-relevant. There are 137 wide receivers that have at least 100 Routes Run in 2022, including Thomas. Thomas ranks No. 117 behind the likes of Tre’Quan Smith, Byron Pringle, Robbie Anderson, Allen Robinson, and Michael Bandy in Route Win Rate.

Two of Thomas’ five Best Comparable Players are Michael Crabtree and Dwayne Bowe. All three are WRs with average to below-average Burst Scores. Lower-extremity injuries are harder to come back from less-explosive athletes. For Crabtree and Bowe, their careers were finished by their age-32 and age-31 seasons, respectively. Thomas will turn 30 on March 3rd.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints will designate Michael Thomas as a post-June 1st cut. The reason for this is that releasing Thomas would result in LOSING $12M in 2023 because his dead cap ($26.17M) is higher than his 2023 cap hit ($14.17M).

The Saints DID gain over $14M in cap space by reducing Thomas’ 2023 salary from $15.5M to $1.17M. Releasing Thomas as a post-June 1st cut will result in $2.1M in cap space on June 2nd while creating $14M in dead cap next offseason. In summary, the restructured contract allows the Saints to balance out the dead cap charge coming next offseason by getting $14M in cap space THIS offseason.

Chris Olave

It certainly eases the minds of the Saints’ front office to move on from Thomas when they have Chris Olave on the roster. At the time of this writing, Olave is No. 9 in Air Yards (1528), No. 18 in Target Share (25.5-percent), No. 10 in Yards Per Route Run (2.54), and No. 20 in Route Win Rate (48.3-percent).

Olave is approaching the 1,ooo-yard mark as a rookie. This is something the Saints haven’t seen from a rookie since Michael Thomas back in 2016. It’s safe to say that the Saints are pleased with the early returns from Olave who they traded up for in the draft to select.

Looking ahead to 2023, Olave should be drafted as a WR2 with low-end WR1 upside for the 2023 season. The Saints are still over the cap and dead last in available cap space. The team is unlikely to bring in significant target competition for Olave. The only restriction for Olave is that the Saints are a run-heavy, slow-paced team this year with Andy Dalton and have no clear path to upgrading the position for 2023.

Rashid Shaheed

Casual fantasy football players may not even know who the OTHER rookie WR is for the Saints: Rashid Shaheed. The Saints’ coaching staff has taken notice of him. “None of you guys knew who Rashid Shaheed was when he first showed up. And for him to develop the way that he has, has been outstanding,” remarked head coach Dennis Allen.

The Saints will have a young duo at WR to build their core around this off-season. Shaheed is averaging an impressive 2.95 Yards per Route Run, 18.2 Yards Per Reception, and 5.5 Yards After Catch Per Target. He outproduced Olave in fantasy points in each of their last three games leading into Week 18. Shaheed will see a bump in dynasty rankings and will become a late-round sleeper in 2023 fantasy football drafts.