METAIRIE, La. — David Thomas’ offseason began sooner than his teammates. It also likely felt even longer to the Saints’ tight end.
Thomas, you see, had a decision to make that would affect not just his career, but his family and his life.
After two concussions sent him to injured reserve for the final eight games of the Saints’ 2011 season, Thomas had to figure out if his long-term health was in line with playing at least another year of football.
So, he went to doctor after doctor after doctor after doctor after doctor after, yes, doctor. In all, Thomas and his wife Kassidy took in opinions from six different doctors.
“With all the stuff that has been going on with concussions and research, it was definitely a very difficult time for me and my family trying to decide what was best for us moving forward,” Thomas said. “We seeked a lot of advice from a lot of doctors and ultimately felt comfortable with me coming back out and excited about this season and what the future has.”
Thomas isn’t one who necessarily relishes speaking with reporters during post-practice interview sessions.
But with everything going on in regard to concussions, he was happy to discuss his situation to let people understand how deeply he and his family thought through the process.
Thomas’ first concussion of 2011 happened on Sept. 25 when the Saints hosted the Texans. He was spun around and the helmet of a Houston player plowed into his. Once on the sideline, he was diagnosed with head trauma.
Six weeks later, Thomas returned, playing against Tampa Bay. A week after that, however, he once again suffered a concussion, this time against Atlanta.
Soon thereafter, he was put on injured reserve, his season over and his future in the game in doubt.
“I’ve always tried to take the approach that you never know when your last play is going to be, you never know when your last game is going to be so always play like it’s your last,” Thomas said. “At times whenever I wasn’t sure if I was going to play again, it was hard to think about not doing this.
“But I found comfort in my family and my faith knowing that whatever happened, if I was done, that I had a family to come home to who loved me and great opportunities after football.”
His family played a part in making the decision. Thomas made sure his wife was on board and wasn’t having any worries about him returning to the field.
To that end, she had unfettered access to the doctors and the ability to ask any question she could think of, a fact that Thomas said was important to the both of them.
“It was important for her to be involved with the whole process because it doesn’t just affect me, if affects her and it affects our kids,” Thomas said. “We just had to really listen to each other and listen to the doctors and just work together and trust each other.”
His return is one the Saints are happy with, his veteran leadership a necessary commodity right now with Drew Brees not around.
“I’m not so sure that he is not on the verge of brilliant when it comes to being a football player,” acting head coach Joe Vitt said. “He loves the game.”
When asked if the younger players pay attention to Thomas, the coach said, “Well if they’re not, then they are stupid. They shouldn’t be here. He is the epitome of a professional.”
But they won’t put his health at risk just to win football games, Vitt said.
“I was there with him when he went through it last year and it very concerning,” Vitt said. “You are talking about life after football. He’s got a wife and two boys. He loves the game, but he loves his family more.”