- After a lengthy time without an NFL team, Dez Bryant finally lands with the Saints, where he’ll be expected to contribute to a deep playoff run this season.
Dez Bryant isn’t the same player he once was—the last time we saw him, he was a step slow and still struggling with drops—but that’s not a problem right now. The best free-agent wide receiver is finally off the market, and he’s heading to a Saints team that doesn’t need him to be anything more than what he is at 30 years old.
On Wednesday, New Orleans agreed to sign Bryant to a one-year contract after working him out earlier in the week, ending Bryant’s longest time away from football after the Cowboys released him this offseason.
Immediately Bryant jumps onto the depth chart as the Saints’ second-best receiver behind Michael Thomas, meaning for the first time in his career, Bryant won’t be relied on as a No.1 receiver. Instead, he’ll give the incredibly accurate Drew Brees a huge target that will complement Thomas and keep the running game open for Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
New Orleans has proven no fewer than three times this year that the team is in win-now mode as Brees nears 40. The Saints traded away their 2019 first-round pick to move up and draft Marcus Davenport in the spring. They took on Teddy Bridgewater’s contract—one larger than they usually pay for a backup—for insurance for Brees while sending away their third-round pick. And they acquired cornerback Eli Apple from the Giants before the trade deadline by giving up their fourth- and seventh-round picks.
Bryant ended his eight-year career with Dallas as the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns with 73. His 7,459 career receiving yards rank fifth in team history. But his play fell off dramatically last year when he failed to register a single 100-yard game.
During the preseason, Bryant had been inside the Browns facility but Cleveland elected not to sign him. He openly flirted with the Patriots, though it’s unclear if New England was crushing on him, too. Bryant worked out for the Saints along with Brandon Marshall and Kamara Aiken earlier in the week but left New Orleans without a contract.
“Each week we’ll have different players in different spots, tight ends, running backs, but you’re asking a question, I think, based on the other reports, so I’ll get to the next question,” Saints head coach Sean Payton told beat reporters Wednesday morning, shortly before word leaked of Bryant’s imminent signing. “We worked out some players yesterday, which we do every week. We may or may not sign a receiver. That has nothing to do with how the other guys are playing.”
But here’s the thing: the other guys aren’t playing that well. While Michael Thomas’s emergence as a legitimate top-five receiver in the league has been great for the Saints, the team must be equally disappointed by the lack of production from Cameron Meredith. New Orleans signed Meredith to a two-year, $9.5 million deal in the offseason to be the No. 2 receiver. In six game appearances, Meredith has just nine catches for 114 yards and zero touchdowns. Tre’Quan Smith, a third-round pick last year, has the second-most receiving yards for a wideout this season for the Saints at just 214 yards.
New Orleans knew it couldn’t go deep in the playoffs without shoring up their defense backfield, hence the trade for Apple ahead of the deadline two weeks ago. Similarly, the team understood that a solid defense could key on Thomas in the postseason and leave them fighting with one hand.
The Bryant signing is all about postseason play for New Orleans. But let’s sit back and enjoy the fact that, before we get to January, we’ll be treated to a Week 13, nationally televised game where the Saints travel to Dallas to play the Cowboys.