Michael Thomas hasn't played meaningful football in a couple of years, but that isn't preventing the Saints from maintaining high hopes for him in 2023.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis planted his flag on an optimistic high ground regarding Thomas when speaking with reporters Monday, responding affirmatively when asked if the former All-Pro can reclaim a role as a 100-reception receiver.
"Oh, absolutely he can," Loomis said, via ESPN's Katherine Terrell.
Thomas last broke the 100-reception mark in 2019, a season in which he reset the single-season record for catches with 149 and earned Offensive Player of the Year honors. Since then, he's caught just 56 passes in the last three seasons combined, with 40 coming in 2020, a campaign in which he played in just seven games.
Back then, Thomas was squarely in his prime at 26 years old. He turned 30 this past March and after missing 40 games between the 2020 and 2022 seasons, it's fair to wonder whether he'll ever play a full season again.
Everything is going according to plan regarding Thomas' current health status, Loomis said, which gives the Saints reason to hope brighter days are ahead. But after he spent the latter portion of his 20s on the sideline, constantly hampered by a number of injuries, there's no telling whether Thomas will live up to expectation going forward.
That's not to say Thomas hasn't been making every effort toward returning. But a combination of bad luck and questionable decision-making (e.g., delaying surgery by first attempting to rehab ankle and toe issues) has kept him off the field in recent seasons.
Loomis believes all of that is now behind Thomas, whose dedication he's never had reason to question.
"He's worked so hard (at getting healthy) over the last two to three years, and while the results haven't been good as we all hoped, it's not because of a lack of effort or desire by him, that's for sure," Loomis said.
For a while, it seemed as if Thomas' time in New Orleans was nearing an underwhelming end. The Saints retained Thomas on a one-year, incentive-laden deal in March, preserving his chance to make a comeback most everyone expected to see years ago.
It's not guaranteed to happen at this point. But if Loomis is an accurate judge, the long-awaited return -- for a full season, not just a cameo of a few games -- could be around the corner.