For most of the Drew Brees - Sean Payton era, the offensive duo has leaned on the former's talent and the latter's schematic abilities to propel the prolific New Orleans offense.
But in the twilight of Brees' career, the franchise struck gold on one of the most productive weapons the team has ever seen - wide receiver Michael Thomas.
A second-round draft pick out of Ohio State, Thomas exploded in the New Orleans Saints offense as a rookie and began to etch his name into the record books.
Since 2016, the former Buckeye has developed into a one of the league's marquee receivers by catching the most passes in NFL history through three seasons, breaking franchise records for most receptions in a season (125) and most receiving yards in a season (1,405), a record previously held by Saints legend Joe Horn.
Speaking of Horn, last season Thomas' popularity soared among the fan base (especially the nostalgic ones) when he pulled out a phone from the goal post padding following a score to emulate the former Saint's iconic 2003 touchdown celebration.
On a franchise that has orbited around Brees since 2006, Thomas is the rare star capable of outshining No. 9. Thomas is a perfect blend of talent and teammate and, together with Brees and fellow young star Alvin Kamara, has formed a formidable offensive triumvirate.
There's a reason why NFL.com ranked Thomas the eighth most indispensable offensive player in the NFL - he's a freak who's shouldering an insane offensive receiving load with Kamara. The pair was responsible for 54 percent of the Saints' passing game last season.
Thomas is averaging 107 catches for 1,262 yards and eight touchdowns through three seasons, and he's already the best wide receiver to play for the Black & Gold (spare me the Horn or Marques Colston arguments).
Most importantly, Thomas represents the future of the franchise. When the Brees era finally concludes, it'll be up to core pieces like Thomas, Kamara, Cam Jordan and Marshon Lattimore to step up and fill the leadership void left by the greatest player in
That young core of talent, led by Thomas, is the transition to the next wave of franchise success. Maybe it's backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater under center, or maybe it's a player not currently maintaining franchise. Either way, the team's current success means the young guns must transition to the veteran leaders.
While performing cell phone celebrations in high-stakes regular season games may not seem like leadership material, Thomas' actions exemplified the same sort of moxie the Saints needed to execute the famous "Ambush" onside kick play in Super Bowl XLIV.
Thomas' confidence comes from years of practice, diligently working to perfect his routes and timing with his quarterback. It's no wonder why Thomas snagged 125 receptions out of 147 targets from Brees last season. The franchise cornerstone quarterback recognizes Thomas' talent and believes in him to deliver in clutch situations.
At age 26, Thomas has many receptions in front of him and many more accolades to follow. If he continues to consistently earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, he'll immortalize himself as Saints royalty sooner than later.
The one major accolade still eluding him, and most of the current Saints roster-is a Super Bowl victory. Could this be the year the Black & Gold hoist the Lombardi Trophy once again? If Thomas takes his game to another level, the Saints just might be making a return trip to Miami to reclaim football's top prize.
Photos courtesy of Mike Trummel