Brian Allee-Walsh

Michael Thomas can thank Drew Brees for his huge contract with the Saints

Saints fans march through city to boycott Super Bowl

New Orleans Saints fans still aren't over the officiating in the NFC Championship, as the took to the streets to protest the Rams taking on the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
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New Orleans Saints fans still aren't over the officiating in the NFC Championship, as the took to the streets to protest the Rams taking on the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

Despite the team’s new $100 Million Man, iconic quarterback Drew Brees remains the face of the New Orleans Saints franchise.

And not just in name only.

Michael Thomas may be what everybody is talking about after Wednesday’s revelation that he became the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver by signing a blockbuster five-year contract valued at $100 million, including $61 million in guaranteed money.

But Brees remains Da Man in Saints-ville.

As Brees goes, so go the Saints.

Period. End of story.

One can debate which player is more valuable to the franchise based on contract numbers. But dollars paid out now and in the future don’t begin to tell the whole story. Even at age 40 1/2, Brees still stirs the Saints drink because of the position he plays and what he means to the franchise on and off the field.

Brees’ true value can’t be measured in terms of dollars and cents.

Yes, Open Mike is very good at what he does, finding holes in the defense, extending plays and moving the chains. But Thomas wouldn’t be the player he is today without Brees performing at a Hall of Fame level. I contend Brees would still be playing at an elite level without Thomas in the lineup. Brees has the ability to make everybody better around him, from the high draft choice to the unsigned rookie to the journeyman free agent.

If not Thomas, it would be some other stud wide receiver/tight end making his mark in New Orleans.

Thomas, 26, is merely the latest in a line of exceptional receivers who have benefited from Brees’ greatness over the past 13 seasons in New Orleans, along with Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks, among others.

In my opinion, Thomas’ first three seasons were child’s play compared to what will be expected of him going forward. Thomas now is under contract through 2024. If Open Mike thought he had a bull’s-eye on his chest and/or back as Brees’ go-to target in 2016, ‘17 and ‘18, Thomas ain’t seen nothing like what he can expect from opponents this season and beyond.

That bull’s-eye has grown exponentially.

He is a marked man.

The expectations from team officials, coaches, teammates, media and Who Dats everywhere are through the roof. But those expectations might pale in comparison to those he now places on himself.

How well Thomas handles the challenge of his new-found superstar status, both on and off the field, will go a long way in determining whether he ultimately justifies being the NFL’s newest $100 Million Man.

Brees will be there to help Thomas do his thing this season.

After that, one knows what the future has in store for Brees.

Nor Michael Thomas for that matter.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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