METAIRIE, La. — Sean Payton expressed frustration Wednesday night over the fact that New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas did not have ankle surgery until June, though he declined to elaborate on why the procedure was delayed.
Thomas, who was plagued by the injury throughout last season, is expected to miss time at the start of this season, as well.
“Well, look, it appears we’re gonna have to spend some time without him. It’s disappointing,” Payton said during his opening training camp videoconference before the Saints’ first practice Thursday. “And we’ll work through it with the other players that are here. But the surgery took place, and obviously we would’ve liked that to happen earlier than later. And quite honestly, it should’ve.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported in January that Thomas was expected to undergo surgery to repair the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his ankle. But it was just revealed last week that Thomas did not have surgery until after he reported for the Saints’ mandatory minicamp in June.
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Thomas, who was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year for 2019 after setting the league record with 149 catches, has not commented on the decision to delay surgery.
“After the season it was decided that he was gonna treat that conservatively. And I think we all had an expectation that [the ankle] would heal and he’d be fine coming into camp this year,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said Wednesday. “But we get to the minicamp, and obviously it wasn’t quite right. So we had to make the call and collectively made the call to have the surgery in June.
“Obviously with hindsight we would’ve preferred that surgery to be earlier in February or March. But it wasn’t. You know, it is what it is. And hopefully he’s had a good result so far, and hopefully we’ll get him back sooner rather than later.”
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Thomas initially suffered the injury in the final minutes of Week 1 last season and never fully healed while missing Weeks 2-8 and Weeks 15-17. He finished with 40 catches for 438 yards in seven regular-season games and didn’t catch his first touchdown pass until the playoffs.
The Saints have signed only one veteran receiver since Thomas’ surgery — former New England Patriots receiver Chris Hogan, who had briefly left football to play professional lacrosse.
But both Payton and Loomis expressed confidence in their current depth chart at the position, even with veteran Emmanuel Sanders released earlier this offseason. Currently, fourth-year pro Tre’Quan Smith and Hogan are the only two Saints receivers with more than 26 career receptions. And they did not draft a receiver until Round 7 this year.
“I think we like our group of receivers probably more than some of the media guys do. But we’ll adjust accordingly,” Loomis said of a unit that also includes third-year pros Deonte Harris and Lil’Jordan Humphrey and second-year pros Marquez Callaway and Juwan Johnson.
Payton added that “there’s other pressing positions ahead of that position.” He specifically identified the outside cornerback position as one area that remains a “must.”