It was inevitable.
Running back Pierre Thomas, the first New Orleans Saints to score a touchdown in a (the) Super Bowl, is holding out for more money.
And nobody that doesn’t work in the Saints front office should blame him.
If the Saints running game can be described as a “committee”, then number 23 is clearly its chairman.
Sure he doesn’t have the flash or dash of fellow running back Reggie Bush, but PT had 403 more ground yards during the regular season than the “celebrithete” and only 33 fewer receiving yards. Thomas also had one more touchdown.
If the on-field disparity slightly favors Thomas, the paycheck end definitely goes to Bush. According to USA Today, Bush made $7,089,940.00 in salary and bonuses; Thomas made a paltry (at least by NFL standards) $465,590.00. Mike Bell, who was the junior partner in the Black and Gold’s running back triumvirate, also made more money than Thomas, receiving $540,590.00.
Considering the season Thomas had and the payday that cameo running back Bush enjoyed, the team’s every down running back was itching for a raise.
Thomas ranked 24th in the league in rushing yards. Bell was 32nd. Bush, the highest paid running back in the NFL, was 48th. The lesser-known Bush, Michael, was nine slots ahead of him.
Now a large part of the imbalance in salary has to do with how Thomas and Bush got on the roster.
Bush was the second overall selection in the draft and had product endorsements waiting for him before he played his first NFL snap.
Thomas was an undrafted free agent who had to fight his way on to the roster during the 2007 preseason, where the Illinois running back racked up 190 rushing yards in 5 exhibition games. It should be noted that he only had 5 rushing attempts in three of those games. Thomas’s success cost the Saints’ 4th round pick in that year’s draft his spot on the team.
When given the opportunity, Thomas performed at a high level and he is still the only Saint to have 100+ yards receiving and rushing in a single game. Thomas has not only played well but he’s played well when seriously hurt, staying with the team in post-season despite suffering a serious rib injury in week 16.
And it could be easily argued that Thomas was one of the top five most important players on the team, giving the offense a new dimension as his emergence marked the most stability in the Saints’ running game since Deuce’s heyday.
The Saints have offered the restricted free agent a raise, offering a one-year deal worth $1,684,000.00, but Thomas and his agent Lamont Smith are seeking a more lucrative contract. Thomas has skipped off-season workouts despite making assurances earlier that he would participate.
Matters will be coming to a head soon in the negotiations as June 15th is the deadline for RFAs to sign the contract offered by their team. If Thomas doesn’t sign the team’s offer, the Saints have the right to drop it to 110% of his 2009 salary, which would be just over a half million dollars, less than a third than the Saints 2010 offer.
With Bell lost via restricted free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles and Bush set as a cameo-back, Thomas is a critical piece of Saints offense. One would say indispensable. Unless Thomas recklessly opts to go on a “hunger strike”, the gritty running back will ink his RFA contract and will be back for the 2010 season.
There was much consternation by fans over how talks between the team and free safety Darren Sharper dragged on. Sharper is clearly the most beloved player on the defensive side of the football though his best days are clearly behind him. At 25 years old and relishing his position as the undisputed starting running back for the Saints, Thomas’s best days could well be in front of him.
Whether it with the Saints or some other team in 2011 could be determined by whether Thomas has to settle for the one year deal the front office slid to him or if the team chooses to make a long-term investment in a player who has only gotten better every season.
When looking at the salary of the team's number two running back, a big raise for Thomas would be an act of economic justice.