Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, the stars of the Saints' backfield when they were Super Bowl champs, are preparing for an offseason of uncertainty that could end with them wearing different uniforms whenever the next football season begins.
Bush is due about $11.8 million next season — the final year of his current contract — and figures there's little chance the Saints will bring him back at that price.
"Common sense would tell you probably not," Bush said, adding that he might be willing to re-negotiate if doing so produces an extension. "We'll see what happens. We'll see what we can do and how we can make this thing work."
Thomas' contract is expiring, although it won't be clear if he's a restricted or unrestricted free agent until the NFL and the players' union reach a new labor agreement. Thomas said he cannot predict whether the Saints will genuinely try to retain him, but added that the organization sounded interested in doing so.
"They told me positive things, but you just have to wait and see," Thomas said. "Just like they say, 'You can talk the talk, but do you walk the walk.'"
While Bush has been paid handsomely since signing his six-year rookie contract worth up to $62 million, his pro career has never taken off to the heights he and many fans expected when he was selected second overall in the 2006 draft.
Bush has had his share of highlight-reel touchdowns on punt returns, receptions and runs, but has never been to a Pro Bowl or even rushed for as much as 600 yards in a season.
This season, he missed eight games, and during the other eight games was used as a role player — with only 36 carries for 150 yards and just 34 receptions for 208 yards.
Bush was paid more than $8 million and was quick to say he did not earn it. However, he also said things might have been different if he had been healthy and played a greater role in the offense.
"Obviously, I don't call the plays. I'm not the offensive coordinator. I'm not the coach. I can do as much as (the play calling) allows," Bush said. "I know that I can be that guy to go out there and give you more than $8 million worth. I can give you $100 million worth if given the opportunity. ... Obviously, I don't think I was able to live up to those expectations from a money standpoint. It sucks and it's disappointing."
While Bush said his role limits him from putting up the numbers similarly paid players do, he said he could not argue with the results of head coach Sean Payton, whose offense spreads the ball democratically among numerous players.
"Obviously with the style of offense we have, opportunities are more limited," Bush said. "I'm not sour or bitter about that because I feel like it's enabled us to be able to win a Super Bowl. We've been extremely successful in the five years I've been here. We have an unselfish offense."
Unlike Bush, Thomas has yet to hit a big pay day in four NFL seasons. He played his first three for close to the league minimum under the contract he signed as an undrafted rookie. As a restricted free agent heading into this season, he skipped some voluntary workouts in apparent protest before begrudgingly accepted the Saints' $1.7 million tender offer, which his agent, Lamont Smith, said was far too low for a running back who'd led the club in rushing in two of his first three seasons.
Thomas then heard he was dangled as trade bait early in the season — something the Saints never confirmed — and he severely sprained his ankle. The injury sidelined Thomas for 10 regular season games and the playoffs.
Thomas said he was never really satisfied by the diagnosis and treatment of his ankle injury by team doctors. Now he expects to soon see ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina, and anticipates having surgery.
Thomas did not deny that he was upset at times by the way his past season went, but he also expressed hope for a fruitful return to New Orleans, where he is a fan favorite, is popular with teammates, and has proven he can be effective in Payton's offense.
"Everybody comes to a disagreement at times, but you know, you get along after that," Thomas said. "I moved on. I believe they moved on. And they told me, 'We love everything you've done for us. We want you back.'
"So everything is good between me and the Saints," Thomas added, "and hopefully everything works out."