When New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension Wednesday, he also extended his love affair with Saints fans and a Saints career that epitomizes the mantra that Coach Sean Payton and his staff have chosen the best players regardless of how they arrived in New Orleans.
Thomas was an undrafted rookie in 2007 who managed to nudge past several other running back candidates, including fourth-round pick Antonio Pittman from Ohio State, to make the 53-man roster. Since, he has become one of the most beloved Saints, endearing himself to fans for his magnetic personality and to teammates for his reliability and productivity.
"It means a whole lot to me," Thomas said. "This is where I started in the NFL, with this team, (and) it just shows that they really appreciate what I do for them, the work I put in out there on that field, day in and day out.
"It's really a blessing just to get another extension after the amount of years I've played in the league. Just to say I'm continuing with one team, it means a lot. I've been hearing it from a lot of guys who've been in the league before me, they said it's rough to try to stay with one team. Just for me to be there, going into my eighth year, it's amazing to have a two-year extension. It truly is a blessing.
"I talked to Coach Payton. Coach Payton just told me how much he likes my game, how he's liked me ever since (I joined the team) and what I contribute to the team, and he really wanted me to stay but it was really out of his hands. But it was up to Mickey and my agent do their thing, talk to each other and come up with a good deal. And that's what we did."
Thomas ran for a team-leading 549 yards and two touchdowns on 147 carries last season, and caught 77 passes for 513 yards and three touchdowns.
He's the fourth-leading rusher in franchise history, with 3,523 yards on 773 carries. And, partially due to his success in perfecting the art of the screen pass, he also has caught 282 passes for 2,230 yards and 11 touchdowns.
During the Super Bowl season of 2009, Thomas ran for a career-high 793 yards and six touchdowns on 147 carries and led the team with 1,095 yards from scrimmage.
Only guard Jahri Evans, receiver Marques Colston and quarterback Drew Brees are longer-tenured Saints. Those three, punter Thomas Morstead and Thomas are the remaining players on the roster who were members of the Super Bowl team.
"There's only a few of us that won the Super Bowl in '09 that are on this team," Thomas said. "It's a room of new faces, a lot of younger guys and I remember when I was in their position, and (running back) Deuce (McAllister) was probably looking at me the same way – a young guy who wasn't there for his run (of success).
"It's just a crazy feeling to know that a lot of guys that I made relationships with through the past years aren't playing with me anymore. I may have to play against them. But I keep in contact with them. They're nothing but good players with great character and great attitudes. I'm going to be friends with them for life."
The departure of some of those players – including linebackers Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, cornerback Jabari Greer, safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins and receiver Lance Moore – leaves Thomas in more of a leadership role.
"I look at it now, I'm going to have to be more of a verbal leader, because I'm one of the guys who has been here since '07 and during the Super Bowl," he said. "Some of the coaches are going to look to me to step up and be more of a verbal leader, and speak out to these guys, give them some knowledge of the game and what's important to be successful.
"But personally, I like to lead by example. I like to go out there and show, 'This is how it's done, this is how you should do it, you should fight all the time, not give up no matter what the score is. No matter how many times you've messed up in a game, you've still got to improve yourself, still carry yourself in with a positive attitude out there on that field and off the field.' "
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