METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas announced Wednesday that he will miss the entire 2021 season after "another small set back which we will have to address" in his recovery from ankle surgery.
Sources told ESPN that the setback was a new issue that recently developed after Thomas had been progressing in his recovery. Saints coach Sean Payton added Wednesday that Thomas had been "working his tail off" before recent scans showed that he might have to have another procedure done.
"I think this isn't anything he can control," Payton said.
Thomas underwent surgery in June to repair multiple ligaments in his left ankle -- an injury that he initially suffered in Week 1 of the 2020 season and battled throughout that entire year. He was initially expected to return in October.
"I've always been a man of faith and these past few months my faith has truly been tested," Thomas tweeted.
Thomas continued: "Since [the June ankle surgery], the team and I have worked diligently, day and night to rehab and get me back on the field. Unfortunately there has been another small set back which we will have to address. To my displeasure, I will not be able to make it back in time for this season but will do everything in my power to get back to the player I have always been.
"I know God doesn't make mistakes so I will continue to follow in his path, and can't wait to be back on the field in front of the best fans on the planet."
Thomas, 28, was the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, when he set a league record with 149 catches. But he was limited to nine games last year, including the playoffs, and now zero games this season.
He will be missed by a 5-2 Saints team that lost starting quarterback Jameis Winston to a season-ending ACL tear Sunday and has been devoid of proven pass-catchers all season.
The Saints rank 31st in the NFL with 180.9 passing yards per game.
ESPN's Kimberley Martin reported Tuesday that there were discussions between the Saints and the Cleveland Browns about a possible deal for Odell Beckham Jr. before the trade deadline passed but that the sides couldn't reach an agreement, given how much Beckham is owed the rest of the year.
Payton said Wednesday that the Saints did their "homework" on several positions before the trade deadline but noted, "There was never any, 'We got down to the wire and just couldn't agree to the price.'"
"Look, these guys are tough, competitive, and I like 'em," said Payton, who listed some of the attributes of Smith, Harris, Marquez Callaway, Kenny Stills, Kevin White and Lil'Jordan Humphrey. "I'm not interested in your PFF [Pro Football Focus] grades or any of that other stuff. I like this group.
"Obviously, you're better if you have Mike Thomas in that group, but we don't right now. And we don't have Jameis at the quarterback position. And that's just how our league can be sometimes."
The timing of Thomas' surgery in June initially led to some tension between him and the team. Payton made it clear at the start of training camp that he was disappointed the surgery hadn't happened sooner. Then after multiple reports in August suggesting that Thomas was to blame for the delay, Thomas tweeted: "They tried to damage your reputation. You saved theirs by not telling your side of the story."
At the time, Thomas also liked multiple posts that suggested the Saints urged him to play through his injury without surgery last season and were blaming him for not being healthy.
However, that tension appeared to have been defused after a productive phone call between Payton and Thomas, and Thomas has been with the team throughout most of his recovery. He was on the sideline for Sunday's 36-27 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Caesars Superdome.
Thomas referenced his original recovery from the 2020 injury in his statement Wednesday.
"As many of you know, early last season I injured my ankle and worked extremely hard over the next few months to get back in time to finish the season," Thomas said. "Unfortunately the rehab didn't go as planned and earlier this off-season it was apparent I would need to have a procedure to repair the injury."
Meanwhile, quarterback Taysom Hill (concussion) was back participating in practice on Wednesday. However, the team still has not announced whether he or Trevor Siemian will start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.