Does Hypothetical Michael Thomas-Stephon Gilmore Trade Make Sense?

Fun to talk about, but that's really it

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The New England Patriots host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, so what better time than now to talk about a hypothetical blockbuster trade rooted solely in Twitter-based speculation rather than actual, credible reporting?

Patriots fans long have coveted Michael Thomas. Really, they just want the team to add any superstar receiver they can get excited about, and Thomas absolutely qualifies. Gilmore often gets floated as a potential piece in a Thomas-Patriots trade, both because of his contract situation and because of New Orleans’s once-desperate need for secondary help. Plus, the Saints reportedly have considered trading for the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

This trade isn’t happening. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which Thomas lands in New England. But, for now, let’s focus on the Gilmore angle.

First, we’ll craft a razor-thin argument for a Gilmore-Thomas megatrade, ignoring all crucial context.

WHY IT COULD, IN THEORY, WORK
Thomas clearly is unhappy in New Orleans. He neither answered nor returned calls from the organization during the offseason, according to multiple reports. Thomas’s discontent with the Saints goes back to last season when his bizarre social media activity led to trade rumors.

The Saints might be so fed up with Thomas that they’re willing to deal with the ensuing financial suicide (which we’ll get to in a moment) in order to move the 28-year-old to a different team. Plus, New Orleans would be justified in having concerns over whether the oft-injured Thomas — he missed extended time last season; had offseason ankle surgery; and, like Gilmore, currently is on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) — ever will return to his superstar status of two seasons ago.

As for the Patriots, rookie quarterback Mac Jones obviously would benefit from working with a receiver like Thomas. And Gilmore, reportedly miffed over his contract situation, seems bound to leave New England when he hits free agency next spring. His age (31) and own injury problems (torn quad last December) also are worrisome. Still, the Saints, as recently as two weeks ago, needed help at cornerback.

So, damaged goods for damaged goods to fill areas of need? Sure.

And the money would work — especially for the Patriots.

Any team acquiring Thomas this season only would need to pay a prorated version of his $1 million base salary. That’s an incredible deal. Michael Thomas for a $1 million cap hit? Ridiculous. And it gets better.

Thomas’s cap hit next season rises to a still-reasonable, injury-guaranteed $15.4 million. However, if Thomas is healthy, the Patriots could bail before it becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2022 league year. His $15.5 million and $18.5 million cap hits in 2023 and 2024, respectively, are not guaranteed. New England could cut bait ahead of either season without any cap ramifications.

That kind of risk-reward would interest many teams, including the Patriots.

WHY IT DEFINITELY WON’T WORK
The Saints recently acquired cornerback Bradley Roby in a trade with the Houston Texans. He and Marshon Lattimore now form an excellent cornerback duo in New Orleans.

Longtime Saints insider Jeff Duncan on Thursday reported that the Saints once were highly interested in Gilmore, but moved on after the Roby trade. That pretty much puts a fork in the whole thing.

But, for a moment, let’s pretend that New Orleans still needs help at corner and would welcome a trade for Gilmore.

First of all, it’s hard to envision the Patriots moving on from Gilmore. New England’s defense is brutally thin at cornerback, and recently acquired ex-Raven Shaun Wade isn’t ready — yet. The Patriots need Gilmore to return after his six-week PUP absence, slide back into the No. 1 corner spot and allow J.C. Jackson to return to the No. 2 spot. Then, multiple players in the secondary — especially Jalen Mills — can start playing more consistently in their ideal roles.

Perhaps the Patriots could add another star corner to replace Gilmore, but that’s a different rabbit hole.

Back to Thomas. We’ll spare you the nitty-gritty, but just know the Saints would be left with a ton of dead-cap money if they traded Thomas this season. The detail that really matters: They would pay Thomas a whopping $22.7 million next season for him to play somewhere else. That’s both a hard sell to a fan base and a hard trade to rationalize from a business perspective.

(H/T: Ben Rolfe of ProFootballNetwork for thoroughly breaking down Thomas’s salary situation.)

If the Saints are going to sign themselves up for that, they should want a much greater haul than just Gilmore. Otherwise, they should keep Thomas, hope the bad blood subsides and cross their fingers in hopes of him staying on the field.

VERDICT
Maybe some team gives the Saints an offer they can’t refuse. Maybe that team is the Patriots.

Perhaps Bill Belichick, loving the contract flexibility, ignores Thomas’s attitude issues and dangles a couple of high draft picks. Yeah, he’d have to do something he rarely does — bring a diva receiver into his locker room — but we are talking about the same person who only a couple years ago brought in Antonio Brown.

But Gilmore straight-up for Thomas? No shot. It doesn’t make sense for either the Saints or the Patriots.

Ultimately, the best path for both sides is for Gilmore and Thomas to return from PUP and play the remainder of the season for their current teams.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan
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