The New Orleans Saints’ agreeing to terms with receiver Dez Bryant on Wednesday was the culmination of a courtship that began before the NFL Draft, Coach Sean Payton said Thursday morning.
Bryant, who played his first eight seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, worked out for the Saints on Tuesday, and agreed to a one-year deal the next day.
“He’s someone I’ve visited with now for a stretch of time,” Payton said. “Prior to the draft, we had a couple of conversations. We weren’t going to do anything in the event we drafted a receiver, and we did.”
The Saints drafted Tre'Quan Smith in the third round.
“Once that happened, it kind of slowed things up,” Payton said. “We felt it was in our best interest this past week to bring in a few receivers to work out. Cameron Meredith, today at some point, is going to go to reserve injured. He’s got to have one additional scope to his knee and he was battling the swelling, and so we felt that it was wise for us right now to take a look at a few of these players. Guys did good. We signed Dez, and we’re getting him ready to go.”
Meredith (nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown) was signed away from Chicago as a restricted free agent, but has battled through recovery from a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
“It’s not bad news,” Payton said. “He’s going to have a full recovery. The scope that he’s having, some cleanup work (will be) done. He kept having the swelling, week in and week out and he really was pushing through it. So we’ll go ahead and have that done within the next few days.”
That helped open the door for Bryant, the Cowboys’ all-time leader with 73 receiving touchdowns. He has caught 531 passes for 7,459 yards, but missed the first half of the season since his release by Dallas in April.
“His workout was good,” Payton said. “He was a little heavy and that’s pretty common. I think probably five pounds, without having gone through a training camp. We felt like he did a number of things that we liked in the workout.”
The addition of Bryant should help lessen the load of Michael Thomas, who leads the Saints in receptions (70), receiving yards (880) and receiving touchdowns (five). No other receiver has more than 12 catches (Ted Ginn Jr., who’s on injured reserve, and Smith each have 12); running back Alvin Kamara is second on the team with 51 catches for 427 yards and three touchdowns.
Payton said Thomas is playing at a “crazy, elite level” and that each week it gets tough because of the coverages that Thomas sees.
“It works together,” Payton said. “If the safeties are leaning to Mike, then there’s going to be some opportunities for guys like Tre’Quan, and we’ve seen that now in the last three or four weeks, tight ends. It’s just a matter of where the lean’s going.
“The other day (against the Rams), the double came down on Kamara and Mike was left (one on one). Drew (Brees) found him on that touchdown pass, the long one (a 72-yarder with 3:52 left, to give the Saints the final score in a 45-35 victory).
“It’s just an option opposite of where you might line up Mike Thomas or opposite of where Kamara might be. It’s someone that can give you tough, contested catches if you feel like there’s more attention to Mike’s side. Tre’Quan is starting to get some of the benefits of that.”
Payton said the process begins Thursday to see how much of the offense Bryant can learn in order to assess whether he will be able to contribute in Sunday’s game against the Bengals.
“We’ll take it one day at a time and see how much he can digest and give him parts to the plan,” he said. “There’s a third-down element, a red-zone element, a lot of different things that we think he provides versatility for.”
He also said there is no concern over how Bryant will acclimate to the Saints’ locker room.
“One of the things (discussed), while he was here on the workout, was, we think that we’ve got a special culture here, one in which you’ll appreciate,” Payton said. “We think we’ve got a system in place. We’ll work our tails off to make it work in our place and you’re going to find that the players around you are guys that will help support you.”
“I think this locker room is one of best locker rooms I've ever been a part of, as far as the type of character and type of leadership and that kind of thing,” Brees said Wednesday. “I think if you talk to free agents and guys that have come here over the past couple of seasons, I think they would be the first ones to tell you that you know that has a lot to do with I think the reason why we are successful.
“And we've been able to build a culture that we have is because of the type of guys that we bring in here. Listen, you know there's all kinds of different personalities. And yet, everybody, when it's time to work, it’s time to work. When it’s time to have fun, it’s time to have fun. I think everyone complements one another. I think we all want to win. And so at the end of the day, if we can bring somebody in here who can help us win, that's great.”
Brees said he’s looking forward to working with Bryant.
“Dez has been a really good player in this league for a long time and there is certainly a skill-set that he has that is going to be beneficial. I look forward to building a rapport with him. I look forward to getting him involved in this offense and just (to) become a complement to all the guys that we already have. I think he'll see that, too, and I'm sure he's been watching from afar at just how he'll integrate into this offense, and I think he'll be a great addition.”