Still a Saint: Thomas glad he was wrong

METAIRIE, La. -- Pierre Thomas thought he was going to be released by the New Orleans Saints this year.

Not just one of those, "You never know what might happen in this business" deals, either.

Thomas saw what happened to so many of his longtime veteran teammates as the Saints were shedding salary-cap costs. He saw the reports that he and fellow running back Darren Sproles were being shopped around in trade talks. And he saw the writing on the wall -- or so he thought.

"Yeah, I actually did think that. But, I mean, I hoped for the best," Thomas said. "I was crossing my fingers hoping I wasn't gonna get traded. But I didn't know at that point, and I just left it in God's hands. And, well, you see where I'm at now."

The Saints wound up trading away Sproles instead, and they worked out a new three-year contract with Thomas. The new deal included a slight pay cut for the 2013 season (from $2.9 million to $2.4 million), but it was a strong commitment from the Saints to their longtime running back, nonetheless.

One of the most underappreciated players in the NFL since he first cracked the league as an undrafted free agent in 2007, Thomas said he certainly felt appreciated by the Saints.

"It was very nice throughout the situation just hearing what was being said and what was going on," Thomas said. "And I'm happy with the decision, and I'm happy to be here, and I'm happy to help us move in the right direction from here on out. ...

"I didn't want to go and learn a new system. I was comfortable where I was at. The fans here have been nice to me. But you've always gotta think that it's a business. So no matter what, if I would've went somewhere else, I would've showed them what I was about, I would've showed everybody who I am, who is Pierre Thomas, if that would've came to that situation. But it didn't. I'm here with the Who Dat nation and with the Saints organization, and I'm happy."

Thomas turns 30 in December, but he hasn't shown much sign of wear. In fact, last year was one of his most productive seasons with a career-high 77 receptions, which led all running backs in the NFL.

Thomas gained 549 rushing yards, 513 receiving yards and scored five total touchdowns before suffering a season-ending chest injury in Week 17.

Thomas disagreed with the notion that it might've been his best season to date, though.

"I don't think so. It was a good season for me last year, but I feel like there was some areas I could do better," said Thomas, who was asked what specifically he wants to improve.

"Running," Thomas said. "The run game. I know I don't get a lot of carries, but I need to still focus on when I do get the carries, how to accomplish those runs."

Thomas played in exactly 50 percent of the Saints' regular-season snaps. And he could potentially play a similar role this year, even with younger backs Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet clamoring for more snaps.

Now that Sproles is gone, Thomas should be featured heavily in the Saints' passing formations since he's their best receiver out of the backfield and their most reliable pass protector. He may lose some rushing yards but gain receiving yards as his role shifts slightly.

Thomas referenced that emphasis on pass protection while he was talking about the lessons that former Saints great Deuce McAllister taught him early in his career.

"The most important thing in this system, what I was first told, was protect Drew (Brees). ...Protect Drew, then second, protect the ball," said Thomas, who said he now passes on those same lessons to his younger teammates.

Even though they're competing for opportunities in a crowded backfield, Thomas said he takes pride in "helping these younger dudes out and trying to show them the way."

"I see myself as one of the vets, almost like the same way when I came in and Deuce was here," Thomas said. "So I feel like me and him just switched spots."