The Chicago Bears are going to have more salary-cap resources than any other team in the NFL during the 2023 offseason, and with deep pockets comes the ability to take bigger risks on some boom-or-bust free agents.
Could one of those risks be New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas?
Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus recently picked Thomas, as his top offensive free agent for the Bears to pursue during the 2023 season, urging Chicago to take a risk on New Orleans’ injury-troubled superstar with the Saints expected to move on from the two-time All-Pro receiver near the start of the league year in mid-March.
While Thomas is under contract with the Saints through the 2024 season, both sides agreed to restructure his deal this month in a way that would financially benefit the Saints if they decide to cut him with a post-June 1 designation for cap relief. They could still choose to keep him, but it is far more likely they part ways and allow the 29-year-old Thomas to test the waters as a free agent for the first time in his career.
If he does, in fact, hit the open market, few teams could make an offer as compelling as the Bears, who have more cap space than any other team in the NFL.
Michael Thomas Would be ‘Worth the Gamble’ for Bears
The Bears have more than $100 million in cap space for the 2023 season and are expected to make at least one big investment at the receiver position after going through an entire season where quarterback Justin Fields was surrounded with subpar options. They do have Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool queued up for another year, but they could still use a battle-tested “X” receiver with proven numbers on the roster.
That’s part of why Spielberger feels Thomas would be “worth the gamble” for the Bears:
The best way to help a young quarterback progress as a passer is to get him an elite No. 1 wide receiver, as evidenced by teams like the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles in recent seasons, to name a few. While Thomas obviously has serious injury concerns, the free-agent wide receiver class doesn’t have any other true X receivers, and Chicago already traded the No. 32 overall pick for Chase Claypool. If any team should be willing to take a risk on Thomas, it’s the Chicago Bears and their league-leading $107 million in projected 2023 cap space.
Even in another injury-shortened 2022 campaign, Thomas flashed his elite ability, with his 77.4 receiving grade 12th among wide receivers, his three touchdown receptions tied for second and his eight contested catches the most in the NFL. Thomas may not be the same player who brought in an NFL-record 149 receptions in 2019, but he’s more than worth the gamble for Chicago as they look to spend major resources at pretty much every other position on the roster.
Thomas Could Be Fallback Option for Bears in Free Agency
While Thomas could be an option later in free agency, the trade market is still the Bears’ best route to adding a high-level veteran receiver this offseason. DeAndre Hopkins and Brandin Cooks are two of the bigger names who are expected to be shopped by their respective teams in the coming months, but others such as D.J. Moore, Michael Pittman Jr. and Davante Adams could also be made available if their quarterback-needy teams decide to make an aggressive move for Chicago’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft.
The appealing thing about Thomas likely entering free agency is that, should the Bears be unsuccessful in their attempts to trade for a No. 1 receiver, he will allow them to consider taking a chance on someone who has delivered elite production. Jakobi Meyers, Allen Lazard, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Parris Campbell are all solid receivers, but none of them have ever shined as brightly as Thomas on the field.
Thomas also doesn’t need to be a long-term commitment for the Bears. A one, maybe two-year deal would add some veteran stability to their receiving position around Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool and could allow Chicago to invest in one or more rookie receivers to develop behind the primary trio for when Thomas’ time is over. Fields could certainly do worse than Thomas, Mooney and Claypool as his top three receiving targets.