Players on the PUP list cannot begin practicing until the first six weeks of the regular season have passed, but Thomas is required to miss only five games since the Saints have a bye in Week 6. The first game he could possibly play is at the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football in Week 7.
Thomas has been sidelined since he underwent ankle surgery in June, but Saints coach Sean Payton said recently that he was “ahead of schedule” in his recovery — which led to optimism that he will be back as soon as he’s eligible.
The late timing of Thomas’ surgery was a point of consternation with the team. Payton said at the beginning of training camp, “Obviously we would’ve liked that to happen earlier than later. And quite honestly, it should’ve.”
Thomas then took offense on social media to reports that had cited sources placing the blame on him. However, tensions appeared to ease earlier this month when Payton and Thomas had a productive phone conversation and Thomas joined the team on the road for its preseason opener at Baltimore.
Thomas missed a total of nine games last year after he originally suffered the injury in the final minutes of Week 1. He came back to play in Week 9, then went on the injured reserve list from Weeks 15 to 17 to heal up before returning again for the playoffs.
He finished with 40 catches for 438 yards in seven regular-season games and didn’t catch his first touchdown pass until the playoffs. Schefter reported after the season that surgery was expected because Thomas had torn the deltoid, among other ligaments, in his left ankle.
The Saints should lean heavily on second-year breakout candidate Marquez Callaway and fourth-year receiver Tre’Quan Smith among others in Thomas’ absence. Smith has been sidelined for several weeks as well, but ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcasters said he is expected back soon from a hamstring injury.