The X Factor
Saints need new WR Dez Bryant to be good, not great
With four wide receivers on injured reserve at the halfway point of the regular season, it was not surprising that the New Orleans Saints worked out a number of players and were able to sign, arguably, the best free agent name at the position.
This week, Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis announced the team signed eight-year NFL veteran Dez Bryant to a one-year contract. It’s a move I like for all involved for a number of reasons.
Bryant, 6’2”, 220 pounds, previously spent his entire career with the Dallas Cowboys, who made him a first round pick (24th overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State. Over the course of his career, he has appeared in 113 regular season games with 99 starts, posting 531 receptions for 7,459 yards (14.0 avg.) with 73 touchdowns. In three postseason contest which he has started, Bryant had 15 receptions for 218 yards (14.5 avg.) and two touchdowns. In 2017, his final season in Dallas, Bryant started all 16 games and finished with 69 receptions for 838 yards and six touchdowns. Bryant has been selected to three Pro Bowls (2013-2014, 2016).
Even though he was the Cowboys’ leading receiver last season and enjoyed a close relationship with team owner Jerry Jones, Dallas released him in the offseason. Speculation is that his outspokenness, notoriety for dropped passes (he was tied for third in the league last year), and hefty $17 million salary outweighed the benefits he brought to the club. They thought they could succeed without him, but they are currently ranked 27th in total offense and are averaging just 19.2 points per game.
Dallas wanted and needed Bryant to be a star, a leader, and one of the team’s top focal points. While I think he can fill that role – especially on a winning team – that’s not the expectation in New Orleans. The Saints just need him to be a contributor.
Despite a depleted receiving corps, much of the Saints’ success is due to the team’s powerful nucleus of quarterback Drew Brees, running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, and wide receiver Michael Thomas, whom Brees has targeted with 28.3 percent of his pass attempts. The Saints are ranked No. 7 in total offense in the NFL, averaging 402.0 yards per game. Additionally, they are scoring 34.9 points per game, placing them only behind the Kansas City Chiefs who are averaging 36.3.
In the Saints’ offense, Bryant won’t have the pressure of expectation on him. He doesn’t have to be “the man.” He simply needs to add firepower to the attack of, what looks like, a championship-caliber club.
A former standout on the track, he has clocked a 4.52 second 40-yard dash. His speed will allow the Saints to stretch the ball downfield, something they’ve been missing without Ted Ginn, Jr. If he can draw a cornerback and safety in coverage, that will open the field for receivers, tight ends, and backs on intermediate and short routes. That in turn, should help the Saints keep possession of the ball, giving the defense needed time to rest and limiting opposing offenses’ opportunities.
At 30 years old, he may be on the downslope of his career trajectory, but he still has a lot to offer. He will need time to get up to speed, learn the Saints offensive plays and terminology, but by not playing the first two months of the season, he comes to the team healthy, fully energized, and without the nagging dings and minor injuries of practicing and playing the preseason and first eight games of the year.
Head coach Sean Payton has not announced if Bryant will play this week, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him. It may take time to fully learn the playbook, but he has experience on special teams. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him on a kick or punt return. The Saints, no doubt, want to see him on the field, making a contribution to the team, scoring touchdowns, and putting up his signature pose of crossed forearms in an “X” as soon as possible.
This signing appears to have many more pros than cons, and may be the beginning of a symbiotic relationship headed toward a championship.