The last time New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas played a full slate of games, he was setting the NFL's single-season reception mark, leading the league with 149 catches and 1,725 yards way back in 2019.
Since then, injuries and medical issues have relegated the All-Pro to a bystander. He played just seven games in 2020, missed the entire 2021 campaign after undergoing ankle surgery, and had 2022 relegated to three meager contests before being shut down again due to a toe injury that required surgery.
Thomas told ESPN's Katherine Terrell this week that part of the issue with his elongated recoveries was that the hardware inserted to help the healing process did the exact opposite.
"I don't want to use this as an excuse," Thomas said. "But also, when you get surgeries and they put hardware in, sometimes your body rejects the hardware."
Thomas noted it happened "with both" surgeries, adding, "Your body responds and healing responds to it. Whatever, I guess, is, the 1%? I guess I'm in that category."
Thomas was a 1% NFL receiver before the injuries and resulting surgical issues wiped out the past three seasons. The hardware in his toe was removed this offseason, allowing him to participate in training camp.
Ahead of the 2023 season, the Saints have liked what they've seen from the 30-year-old receiver. Of course, there was optimism that he might finally return for good last year, but that lasted just three games. At this stage, Thomas is an unknown quantity. Is he the perennial Pro Bowler who can slant defenses to death? Is he a decoy? Is he destined to be injured until his career ultimately ends?
The start of the season will answer some questions. Still, New Orleans will likely have to hold its breath weekly through December, hoping another injury doesn't spawn before making any declarative statements.
The best thing for the Saints' offense is that they no longer rely on whether Thomas stays on the field. Chris Olave is a stud. Rashid Shaheed is a burner. Rookie A.T. Perry has flashed. Tight end Juwan Johnson is a chain mover. And even Jimmy Graham is back as a red-zone threat. Would having a full-force Thomas make Derek Carr's life easier? Obviously. But if injury strikes yet again, the Saints aren't up the creek without a paddle. Whatever they get from Thomas feels like a bonus at this point.