Almost two years ago, New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain in a Week 1 match against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He went on to play just seven games that season and none in 2021 after the surgeries and complications thwarted his NFL return.
But this week, Thomas finally returned to the field almost fully healthy after the Saints activated him off the Physically Unable to Perform list.
"I'm kind of lost for words," Thomas told reporters Wednesday. "I didn't want to come up here and get emotional or anything. But it was a blessing to be back out there with the guys, being able to put my hand in the pile and just be out there to perfect my craft and compete and encourage guys and get ready to help D.A. [coach Dennis Allen] win some games."
Thomas said he talked to "probably anybody who had an ankle injury" during his recovery, which included Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz. He even reached across the sports aisle to Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry.
"I'm just happy to be trending now in the right direction and handling my business," Thomas added. "... And I take pride in that challenge."
Saints and Thomas need each other in 2022
Thomas' return was a big moment for the receiver and the Saints, both of whom have something to prove this season.
For Thomas, he wants to remind the football world he can still play at a high level. Three years ago, Thomas signed a five-year $100 million contract extension with $61 million guaranteed – the highest mark for a receiver at the time – and led the league with 1,725 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns. His 149 receptions in 2019 also broke an NFL record and he was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year that season.
But the ankle injury he suffered in Week 1 of the 2020 season and its lingering issues plagued Thomas' year, and his decision to postpone surgery until late in the 2021 offseason caused issues with Thomas and the Saints.
Thomas reportedly didn't speak with the team for months during the offseason before electing to have surgery in June, which would have pushed his return date weeks into the upcoming season. Thomas then posted a cryptic tweet in August after the news about the Saints' frustrations with Thomas's surgery decision surfaced which said "They tried to damage your reputation. You saved theirs by not telling your side of the story." Though Thomas was scheduled to return at some point last season, a setback forced him to miss the entire year.
Thomas admitted Wednesday he initially opted against surgery because one of the doctors he spoke with told him his ankle could heal without surgery.
"If one of the [doctor's] opinions is 'you can rehab your ankle and it should be good by camp' – and I've never had surgery – I'm going to stick with that one," Thomas said. "But when that one doesn't work, I go with the other [to have surgery]. I don't write the opinion. I just have to pick one."
That all seems to be behind Thomas and the Saints now, though, as the two sides head into the 2022 season. And it couldn't come at a better time for New Orleans. The team heads into its second post-Drew Brees season and first without Sean Payton as head coach. But there are more questions than answers surrounding the once-dominant Saints roster.
Jameis Winston will likely start under center once more. Running back Alvin Kamara is still there, too, but he may get hit with a suspension after an off-field issue. New Orleans added rookie wideout Chris Olave in the draft, signed veteran receiver Jarvis Landry and bolstered the secondary with veteran safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye after losing Marcus Williams to free agency.
Thomas should keep the Saints' offense rolling once he gets back to full speed.
"I've had success in this league," Thomas said. "I know how to create success in this league. "I'm out here now and I'm ready to keep getting better and improve my game."