Saints veterans reported to camp on Thursday, with the first practice scheduled for Friday.
Thomas, who is due to make $1.148 million in the final year of his rookie contract, is subject to a maximum fine of $40,000 per day for missing camp.
Thomas, 26, participated fully during the Saints’ organized team activities and minicamp practices earlier this offseason, telling ESPN, “I’m a football player first; I like being at work.”
But the first-team All-Pro has been unable to work out a long-term extension with the Saints despite negotiating for weeks, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
A source told ESPN’s Dianna Russini last month that the Saints were comfortable making Thomas the NFL’s highest-paid receiver — a title currently held by Odell Beckham Jr., whose deal is worth $18 million to $19 million per year with $65 million in guarantees.
Thomas could be seeking a significant bump from that amount, considering fellow top receivers such as Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, A.J. Green and Tyreek Hill are also seeking new deals that should continue to raise the salary bar.
The Saints have never paid a skill position player more than $10 million per year, which was the size of tight end Jimmy Graham‘s extension before he was traded away in 2015. But Thomas, who was drafted in the second round out of Ohio State in 2016, has played a bigger role in New Orleans’ offense than any skill position player to come before him in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era.
Last year, Thomas set franchise records with 125 catches and 1,405 yards while catching nine touchdown passes. His astounding catch rate of 84.5% in 2018 was the highest of any NFL receiver since at least 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Thomas’ 321 career catches are the most in NFL history by a receiver in his first three years. Beckham ranks second with 288.
The Saints have about $12 million in salary-cap space after they signed All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan to a lucrative contract extension earlier this offseason. But they have some serious budgeting issues to consider in the near future.
Next year, Brees, backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and guard Andrus Peat are among the scheduled free agents. Then running back Alvin Kamara, guard Larry Warford and linebacker Demario Davis come due in 2021, followed by cornerback Marshon Lattimore and offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk in 2022.
The Saints also have more than $26 million in “dead money” scheduled to count against their salary cap in 2020 because of the way they have structured Brees’ contract.