METAIRIE, La. — Yes, of course. New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas said he has “most definitely” been inspired by ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan that aired the past five weeks. A lot of people have been.
But Thomas is viewing it through the lens of a kindred spirit.
If you have spent any time around the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, it’s impossible to not be struck by his similarities to Jordan in their approach and intensity.
Quarterback Drew Brees has called Thomas perhaps the most competitive teammate he has ever had. Coaches and teammates describe an almost maniacal level of passion on the practice field. Saints coach Sean Payton once told NFL.com that he felt like he got hit by a car when he made the mistake of standing in as the defensive back across from Thomas during a walk-through session.
“I feel like there’s not many things not to like about Jordan if you’re the ultimate competitor, if you want to win, if you want to be the best,” said Thomas, who said his dad was a “huge fan” of Jordan’s and instilled some of the same characteristics and habits in him. “And there’s a lot that comes with that, so there’s not that many people that you can relate to at that level.
“When you get a person like that, at the highest level, to pretty much open up about the whole thing, it allows you to stay honest and realize who you are. Because I feel like the level Jordan played at is not for everyone …. And you need examples like that. I’ve been studying a lot of great documentaries and movies and reading and just studying how they prepared their craft back in the days and testing it against how I prepare and stuff like that. Because I feel like if you study those guys and you line ‘em all up, you see a lot of key characteristics that they have that others don’t.”
Thomas shared his appreciation for Jordan on social media throughout “The Last Dance” series, including his belief in the value of trash talk and the way Jordan notoriously kept a mental list of players he either wanted to pay back or prove something against.
Word for word pic.twitter.com/dP1JkgEOU5
— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) May 15, 2020
😢 it’s the last episodes of #LastDance but grateful we got the opportunity to see GREATNESS it’s not for everyone.
— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) May 18, 2020
— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) May 18, 2020
Other media members have made Thomas-Jordan comparisons in recent weeks. Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead backed up the assessment by tweeting, “Mike T has the same edge as MJ, and that’s facts!”
Thomas has also performed at a ridiculously high level on the field throughout his career. He shattered the NFL record with 149 receptions in a season last year, and his 470 career catches are by far the most by any player in league history through his first four seasons.
Thomas, who is the nephew of former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, was also a huge fan of NBA star Allen Iverson growing up. Thomas has always carried a chip on his shoulder, developed through years of being a late bloomer in high school, being redshirted in his second season at Ohio State and falling to the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. He gave himself the famous “Can’t Guard Mike” nickname in high school, saying that he wanted to invite the challenge that came with such a bold declaration.
But as ESPN’s Hallie Grossman described in this 2018 profile of Thomas, he has also continued to almost manufacture doubters now that he has received so much acclaim as a two-time first-team All-Pro selection.
Thomas got into it on Twitter with Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman after a game in 2018. Earlier this year, he trolled the Minnesota Vikings during their playoff loss after the Vikings previously eliminated the Saints. Thomas has had strong words for media members and analysts when he has felt slighted. And he is never shy about sharing his displeasure with a ranking or statistic.
I was drafted in 2016 don’t let them trick you 🙂. Have a blessed day ☀️ https://t.co/dMKF9Z0KcA
— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) May 18, 2020
When asked about his competitive edge and his comments to Parker this week, Thomas said, “At the end of the day, you just want your respect. I value respect. And when you put in the work, I feel like you deserve to think like that and be like that — keep everybody honest.”
“I’ve always been taught to keep everybody honest,” he continued. “At the end of the day, we’ll find out who was right and who was wrong. So just keep everybody honest around you — and that doesn’t just mean the people that’s talking. That’s also yourself, too. So if you’re gonna talk it, you’ve gotta definitely walk it, too.
“And I like that type of pressure. I’ve been doing it my whole life, so it’s pretty much whatever for me. I like to see how people feel. Then I like coming out and doing my thing and seeing how they feel after that. And then if they still feel the same way, something’s wrong.”
Thomas said he has been working out diligently throughout the pandemic, and he didn’t want to give away any of his secrets about his training methods or location. But he promised that he’ll be “more than ready” when the NFL returns.
“You’ll be able to tell,” he said. “Everyone will be able to tell.”
Will Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley become the NFL’s highest-paid non-QB? – Baltimore Ravens Blog
Now it’s legitimate to ask whether Stanley is going to get paid like no other non-quarterback in the NFL.
Stanley’s ascension to the top of his position comes as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and an enviable situation. The left tackle market suddenly became inflated while lacking a core of young and established blockers.
In addressing his contract situation this past week, Stanley said, “I definitely want to get paid my value and what I’m worth.”
Given that he’s a first-team All-Pro, Stanley is expected to surpass Houston’s Laremy Tunsil, who escalated the value for left tackles in April by signing a three-year contract that averages $22 million per season.
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Coming off one of the best seasons by a left tackle in recent memory, Stanley could move past Chicago pass-rusher Khalil Mack ($23.5 million per season) and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald ($22.5 million) to become the richest non-QB in the league.
In protecting the blind side of NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, Stanley allowed six pressures, the fewest by an offensive tackle in 14 years. He was named Pro Football Focus’ Pass Blocker of the Year.
In opening holes for the NFL’s all-time single-season rushing attack, Stanley helped Baltimore average 7.2 yards per rush on the left side. In the past 15 years, only the 2018 Carolina Panthers gained more yards per carry on the left side (7.4).
Detractors will say no left tackle is worth that money (over half of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks are making less than $22 million per season) and that Stanley’s numbers are more reflective of how teams are reluctant to full-out blitz Jackson. Others feel the Ravens can’t spend on Stanley when three Pro Bowl players (cornerback Marlon Humphrey, tight end Mark Andrews and offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.) are scheduled to become free agents after the 2021 season and Jackson will likely be seeking a record-setting deal around that time.
Baltimore can keep Stanley at what amounts to be a bargain price for the next two years. Stanley is making $12.86 million in his fifth-year option this season, and he could receive the franchise tag at around $15 million in 2021.
Ultimately, the Ravens will have to make the tough decision: Give Stanley the biggest average-per-year deal in franchise history or search for his replacement.
Baltimore understands the challenge of finding a long-term answer at left tackle. After Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden retired in 2007, the Ravens went through seven starting left tackles in eight years: Jared Gaither, Adam Terry, Michael Oher, Bryant McKinnie, Eugene Monroe, James Hurst and Kelechi Osemele.
It wasn’t until the Ravens used the No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 draft on Stanley did they stop the turnstile. He was solid in his first three seasons before his breakout year in 2019, which moved him to the top of a position that lacks a lot of star power.
Dallas’ Tyron Smith and New Orleans’ Terron Armstead can’t stay on the field. San Francisco’s Trent Williams hasn’t played a game since 2018. Indianapolis’ Anthony Castonzo turns 32 before the season.
Tunsil became the highest-paid left tackle because of leverage. The Texans traded two first-round picks and a second-rounder to the Miami Dolphins for Tunsil, and they couldn’t afford to let him walk.
So Tunsil received $4 million more per season than any other offensive tackle in NFL history. How much more will it jump with Stanley?
Last season, Tunsil allowed three sacks and committed a league-high 17 penalties, including 14 false starts. Stanley didn’t give up a sack and was flagged just four times.
To keep Stanley, it certainly looks like the Ravens will have to give him a contract that exceeds the $22 million-per-year deal signed by quarterback Joe Flacco in 2016.
If anyone needed a reminder about how much teams covet offensive tackles, five were taken in the first round in this year’s draft. The Browns, Jets and Dolphins all selected tackles in hopes of protecting young franchise quarterbacks.
The Ravens know the price it’ll take to keep Stanley shielding pass-rushers from Jackson. It’s just unknown whether they’re willing to pay it.
Chase Young and Markelle Fultz
A little over five years ago, Maryland high school basketball teammates Chase Young and Markelle Fultz expressed the same vision for the future. It was ambitious: The pair set a goal to go No. 1 in their respective drafts, Young in the NFL and Fultz in the NBA.
“We just had a fire in us in high school,” said Young, a better prospect as a pass-rusher than as a basketball player at DeMatha High, “and in our sports we were both doing pretty well. The first pick is something everyone wants to be, and that was something we wanted to do. We weren’t going to stop until we got it.”
They knew they would need to push each other to make their dreams reality. Sometimes it meant battling on the court, where Fultz’s talent flashed against Young’s competitiveness. Young asked — demanded — to guard Fultz in practice. Sometimes it was a one-on-one battle before or after practice. Other times it was during a full-team workout.
Those practices revealed traits that helped Fultz achieve his goal, going No. 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017. The guard has since been traded to the Orlando Magic. Young just missed the mark, being taken No. 2 by the Washington Redskins in this year’s NFL draft.
What happened during their one-on-ones depends on whom you ask.
Fultz: “It wouldn’t go too well. He would either foul or I would score.”
Young: “No, he was just soft. I used to strap him. I was lockdown. I was like a Dennis Rodman.”
DeMatha basketball coach Mike Jones: “Markelle is telling the closer version to the truth.”
Jones gets the last word, because it speaks to the players’ relationship, developed at the all-boys school in Hyattsville, Maryland, and a bond that remains strong.
“If Markelle had a great practice against Chase one day, that didn’t discourage [Young] the next day from saying, ‘I got him again.’ And vice versa. … That’s one of the things that pushed them to be as good as they are.”
Opponents at an early age
Young and Fultz knew of each other before they met. Young said they likely were opponents in youth basketball leagues. But Young started his prep career at Pallotti High in Laurel, Maryland, staying there through his sophomore football season before transferring to DeMatha and playing on the junior varsity basketball team.
“I realized I had seen him before, multiple times,” said Fultz, who was a grade older. “I was like, this dude is big as hell. Seeing the way he moved for his size was one of the first things I noticed.”
They grew close, in part because they had a lot in common.
“We had a career center and we’d go in and get help and come early,” Fultz said. “He was in there just like I was. To see someone care so much about everything and being a good person and getting good grades and treating people the right way, it reminded me of myself. It was easy to relate.”
Within a year, both had become big-time talents; Fultz knew by his senior season he’d likely be one-and-done in college. Young, who was coming off a 19-sack season as a junior, was being recruited as a defensive end by Alabama, Ohio State and a host of others. He chose the Buckeyes and then shared his goal of going No. 1 in the NFL draft.
“It’s a mentality we had being young,” Fultz said. “We didn’t know where we’d be, but we both believed, with the work ethic and talent we had, that anything is possible, so why not set it to be that?”
Fultz said seeing Young dominate in football motivated him. “He’s killing it during his season; I need to kill it in mine. It doesn’t put pressure; it’s more of a brotherly competition.”
Young followed Fultz’s freshman season at the University of Washington closely. Then a high school senior, Young studied Fultz’s highlight tapes, interviews and practice videos.
“It was somewhere I wanted to be one day, just on the football side,” Young said. “It motivated me by him doing well. It’s like, I know I’ve got to keep pushing because I’ve got to do well, too.”
Huge goals, simple plan
Chase Young and Markelle Fultz reflect on setting the goal of being the No. 1 overall pick in their respective sports while still in high school.
As Jones said, there’s a difference between saying you want to do something and having a plan to make it happen. That’s what separated Fultz and Young from others. Their plan was simple: Work hard every day.
“They really motivated each other,” said Young’s mother, Carla. “They knew their skill level and desire to be great and to keep each other accountable and keep pushing one another.
“[Young] would say, ‘I’m going to do this.’ He didn’t talk about ‘I want to.'”
Fultz worked on the details of his game — what he would do, for example, when he got into the lane. He would leave school after practice and find another gym for more work. In the summertime, Fultz would arrive early to camps where he was working in order to do extra dribbling or shooting drills. This past summer, when he was about to enter his third NBA season, Fultz showed up four hours early for camp, then stayed for a couple of hours afterward.
Young developed a workmanlike attitude when he was 6 years old. His parents remembered that former star running back Herschel Walker never lifted weights. Young didn’t lift weights until high school. Instead, he did pushups, squats and agility work with a ladder or cones. He would play a card game, and, based on the card he picked, he would have to do a corresponding number of exercises. And, Young became a film junkie before he reached Ohio State.
“He worked hard from an early age,” Carla Young said. “We never had to tell him to work out or exercise. We almost had to threaten him to sit down.”
During football season in high school, Young would head to the gym after practices for 20 minutes of shooting baskets with no coaches around.
“Some guys are talented in one [sport] so they have this prima donna or this, ‘I’m Chase Young so I don’t have to do that’ attitude,'” Jones said. “He never behaved that way. He played like he had something to prove. I knew I could count on Chase.
“If he wanted to be a Division I basketball player, he could have been. I want that to be very clear. You could see his talent and size and his work ethic.”
Still there for each other
In January, Young was in Los Angeles training for the NFL draft. On Jan. 16, Fultz’s Magic were playing the Los Angeles Lakers. With Young sitting courtside, Fultz compiled a triple-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in an upset win. Before the game, Young had challenged Fultz to score a certain number of points. Fultz was ready.
“I told him, ‘I’m about to go crazy and play good,'” Fultz said. “That’s the big thing, both of us are competitive. He would say, ‘I bet you won’t kill this game or do this.’ I’d say the same to him. Our competitive nature going against each other and who can do better is what drives us.”
Just like in those practice sessions.
“That’s the reason I like him so much, because his confidence is always high no matter what,” Fultz said. “That’s what’s pushing me to keep killing him. I try to break his confidence, but he always seems to have it.”
Fultz can also provide tips for handling sudden wealth and increased attention. He endured a rocky start to his NBA career because of a shoulder injury. He was traded midway through his second season. Fultz was working on a solid year with Orlando before the league shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. “If he goes through something, he knows to never give up,” Fultz said. “He knows I’m a resource. I’ve been through a lot. I won’t sugarcoat it or tell him what he wants to hear. He was someone who reached out to me, making sure I was OK. He was always telling me I’m good.”
The two speak almost daily, so Young knows he can count on Fultz to help if he hits a rough patch.
For now, though, Young must live with one fact: He went one spot lower than Fultz.
“He was the best player in his draft, even though he went No. 2,” Fultz said. “I got that little edge over him.”
Young’s retort: “In basketball, the best player in that draft gets picked [first]. I feel I was the best player in this year’s draft, but if a team needs a quarterback, they’re gonna pick a quarterback.”
“It was crazy. We talked about it,” Fultz said. “It was something we always believed.”
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