Update: Two days after signing with the Saints, Dez Bryant is believed to have torn his Achilles. What a brutal turn of events.
Dez Bryant waited for the right opportunity after being released by the Cowboys this offseason. On Wednesday he found it — with the NFC’s top team.
Bryant signed a one-year contract worth up to $1.75 million with the 7-1 New Orleans Saints, giving Drew Brees and Michael Thomas some much needed support in the passing game. The veteran wideout confirmed his decision on Twitter not long after the news broke.
While Thomas has been a revelation in his third season in the league, he’s also been responsible for 65 percent of his team’s receptions among wide receivers. Adding Bryant will take some of the weight from his shoulders — and potentially keep teams from defaulting to double- and triple-teams for the Saints’ rising star.
Bryant had spent his first eight seasons with the Cowboys. During his time in Dallas, Bryant made three Pro Bowls and earned one All-Pro nod in 2014. In New Orleans, he’ll try to get back to his 2014 form, which was the last season he eclipsed 1,000 yards.
It may be a stretch to get there. Bryant’s recent on-the-field decline set a soft market for the newfound free agent’s services this offseason. While the Ravens were interested in adding him to their revamped receiving corps, the veteran turned down a multi-year contract with Baltimore in order to chase a value-rehabilitating one-year deal elsewhere. His plan of turning a comeback year with the Saints into big guaranteed money in 2019 seems like a risky proposition; Bryant is betting there will be a hard market for a player who just turned 30.
He won’t make his 2018 debut when the Saints visit the Bengals this Sunday, but he could play in Week 11:
New #Saints WR Dez Bryant is expected to sit out Sunday‘s game vs. #Bengals. They want him to drop weight and he needs more than two practices to learn the offense, build chemistry, etc. Debut could come the following week vs. the #Eagles. @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/NisbE8tmZU— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) November 9, 2018
Why did the Saints sign Bryant?
Bryant languished on the free market for longer than expected, but injuries and general ineffectiveness behind Thomas made him an obvious match in New Orleans. Veteran deep threat Ted Ginn’s season ended after four games thanks to injury and valuable slot receiver Tommylee Lewis isn’t eligible to return to the active roster until Week 11 due to a knee injury of his own.
That’s put pressure on a supporting cast of players like Cameron Meredith, rookie third-round pick Tre’Quan Smith, and Austin Carr, who’ve underwhelmed in 2018. Meredith was placed on injured reserve after the Saints signed Bryant.
While dynamic tailback Alvin Kamara has been an important part of the team’s passing game and Ben Watson is performing as well as any 38-year-old tight end ever has, the Saints needed someone who could threaten opposing secondaries consistently on the opposite sideline from Thomas.
Enter Bryant, who may not be the player he was in an All-Pro 2014 campaign but still managed to haul in eight touchdowns and record 15.9 yards per catch in a 13-game 2016 season. The 220-pound veteran gives Brees a bulky target with a nose for the end zone, and his presence should not only take some of the defensive focus off of Thomas’ plate, but also give Brees a much more viable second option among his wide receivers on the rare occasion Thomas is covered.
It’s also a move that signals the Saints are taking what could be Brees’ final push toward a second Super Bowl title seriously. New Orleans has surged back into the NFC’s playoff picture the past two seasons after going from 2014 to 2016 mired in a seven-win wasteland. Brees has fought off the clock admirably, but he’s also almost 40 years old. His championship window is closing — but adding Bryant will give him an extra boost to climb through it in 2018.
And Bryant will get a revenge game to prove himself out of the deal as well. New Orleans will face the Cowboys in a Thursday Night Football showdown in Dallas Nov. 29.
However, it’s still up in the air if Bryant will play this Sunday against the Bengals.
Can Bryant still be a good player?
He could. Randy Moss turned his career around after two struggle seasons in Oakland, when he signed with the Patriots. We probably shouldn’t expect such a historic turnaround from Bryant like that — it’s an extreme example, but it gets the point across.
A change of scenery could be good for Bryant. He was solid in 2017, albeit not spectacular, and there’s a chance the switch from Tony Romo to Dak Prescott at quarterback had a negative impact on his output. Reuniting with a veteran pocket passer could be just the change he needs to snap back into form and prove he’s still capable of delivering a Pro Bowl campaign.
Bryant also has a theory for why things went south when Prescott took over at quarterback. He says the real problem was “garbage-ass play calling.”
Here we go with that scapegoat shit.. i charged everything to the game and went the other way.. y’all know what the real problem is .. don’t put it on me with that bullshit.. garbage ass play calling.. Everybody lined up in the same spot for 17 weeks.. https://t.co/YhG4cAPx6O— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) July 27, 2018
Whatever what you attribute the struggles to, it’s worth mentioning just how well his overall career with the Cowboys went:
Dez Bryant’s Legacy:— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 13, 2018
Rec TD 73 1st
Rec. 531 3rd
Rec yards 7,459 5th
56 of Bryant’s 73 TD catches came in his first 5 seasons, trailing only Jerry Rice (66) and Randy Moss (60) for most by a player in first 5 seasons.
Now he’ll team up with Brees in what may be the best season of the veteran quarterback’s career. If he can’t rehab his value in New Orleans, 2018 could be the end of the line for Bryant’s run as a Pro Bowl-caliber player.