Saints fans worried that running back Pierre Thomas would become the latest New Orleans veteran to be released need not fret anymore.
The Saints have given Thomas a two-year extension, his agent announced via Twitter on Wednesday morning.
“PT will remain a Saint,” agent Lamont Smith said on his Twitter account. “2 year extension. Congrats to the Saints and PT. Time to fly.”
Saints spokesman Greg Bensel then tweeted out confirmation of Thomas’ extension. And, early on Wednesday afternoon, the fan-favorite said via Twitter, “Glad to be back in the black & gold!!”
Thomas went from being an undrafted rookie in 2007 to scoring two touchdowns on the night the Saints won their first NFC championship in 2009. He told The Advocate in 2013 he considered that to be the game of his life.
Two weeks after that, he scored the Saints’ first touchdown on the night they won their only Super Bowl. After his seven seasons, his 3,523 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns are fourth and fifth all-time for the franchise. A master at the screen pass, a valuable tool in the Saints’ offensive attack, Thomas also has 2,230 receiving yards on 282 catches and is just 13 grabs away from becoming the club’s all-time leader for receptions by a running back.
Thomas — skilled in pass blocking as well — played all 16 of the Saints’ regular-season games in 2013, rushing for a team-leading 549 yards and two touchdowns on 147 carries. He also had 513 yards and three touchdowns on 77 catches, the most among NFL running backs. However, he sat out the team’s two playoff games with a chest injury he suffered in the regular-season finale.
In his absence, the Saints rushed for 185 yards in their 26-24 wildcard win against Philadelphia, including 97 yards and a touchdown from Mark Ingram. Nonetheless, the Saints would’ve been glad to have Thomas back when they lost to Seattle in the divisional round.
There was intense speculation Thomas could be cut to save some $2.9 million in cap space. Wide receiver Lance Moore was cut Friday; and in February, defensive veterans Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Will Smith were all released.
News of Thomas’ extension (which should lower his salary cap figure) comes one day after the Saints came to terms on a six-year deal with free-agent safety Jairus Byrd that is reportedly worth about $54 million.
Salary cap expert Joel Corry on Wednesday reported that Byrd’s contract carries $26.3 million in guarantees. His 2014 cap number is $3.5 million. New Orleans entered Tuesday at fewer than $3 million under the 2014 salary cap of $133 million.
The extension also virtually guarantees running back Darren Sproles will not return to New Orleans and will indeed either be traded or cut, as has been widely reported. Shortly after joining the Saints in free agency in 2011, Sproles set an NFL single-season record with 2,696 all-purpose yards as New Orleans got to the divisional round of the playoffs, but his production dropped in each of the next two campaigns. He had one year and $3.5 million left on his contract as Tuesday became Wednesday.
Thomas is the last player remaining on the Saints who scored for them during Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. Aside from Moore (a two-point conversion), kicker Garrett Hartley (three field goals and two extra points), tight end Jeremy Shockey (touchdown catch) and cornerback Tracy Porter (interception return for a touchdown) were also all previously released.
But New Orleans doesn’t solely value Thomas for his on-field achievements. He’s one of the Saints who most participates in off-field community events each year, including school and hospital visits as well as holiday food and toy drives.
He formed a charitable organization, the iCan Foundation, to help prevent and educate youth and adults about the ongoing and rising issues of childhood obesity in the U.S. through programs and activities. All of that earned Thomas the Saints’ 2013 Man of the Year Award and a nomination for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which honors a player’s charity work as well as his performance on the field.