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Thursday, March 3, 2011
Pierre Thomas deal solidifies RB situation

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Here’s a bit of a surprise out of New Orleans. Brian Allee-Walsh reports the Saints have agreed to a four-year contract with running back Pierre Thomas. (Update: Moments later, the Saints sent out an official announcement about the Thomas deal).

To be totally honest, I’m more than a little shocked because I thought the Saints weren’t all that keen on keeping Thomas. I know they placed a restricted tender on him Thursday night, but I was going on the assumption it was probably a low tender and the Saints might let Thomas walk.

That’s largely because it sure seemed like there was a growing rift between the team and Thomas last season as he missed 10 games with an ankle injury. There were wide-spread reports of friction between Thomas and coach Sean Payton and implications that the team thought Thomas wasn’t healing fast enough.

But it appears Thomas erased all those doubts and concerns late in the regular season. After making two inconsequential appearances in December, Thomas came through with a big game against Atlanta on Dec. 27. With some other injuries in the backfield, the Saints didn’t have much choice but to lean heavily on Thomas.

They gave him 19 carries and he gave them 63 yards and a key touchdown. He also looked a lot like the player he was in 2009 and that might have changed some minds.

When healthy, Thomas is New Orleans’ best running back, and this move theoretically goes a long way in stabilizing a running game that struggled much of last season. Payton likes to play multiple running backs throughout a game. Chris Ivory showed some promise when forced into action last season, and the Saints still have Reggie Bush, who could be sticking around if his contract is extended to knock down his 2011 salary-cap hit.

A healthy trio of Thomas, Bush and Ivory isn’t a bad combination. Heck, you could even throw Lynell Hamilton into the mix. He’s a player the Saints liked before he got hurt last year. Suddenly, a New Orleans running game that was a weakness last year is looking like a strength.