The New Orleans Saints are one of 32 NFL teams that are looking hard over their position groups this weekend. Generally speaking, this is an attempt to improve their teams to get to the position that the Steelers, Patriots, Packers and Falcons are today; an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl.
There was a time, not long ago, that the Saints had multiple players stacked position wise. One of these positions still hold true in quarterback Drew Brees. The other was at tight end, where Jimmy Graham and the Patriots Rob Gronkowski were talked about as being “heads and shoulders” above the competition. Graham, of course was stunningly traded to Seattle following the 2014 season. While Graham’s production has not been duplicated at the position, the Saints instead saw the emergence of three extremely talented young receivers in Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead. Still, it is said that a QB’s best friend is a reliable and trusted target at tight end.
Who Dat Dish will continue our Saints free agent outlook with a preview of the tight end position. Furthermore, Who Dat Dish will look at options on the roster, as well as free agent possibilities. Sit back, relax, root against Atlanta and let’s get started, shall we?
Tight Ends On The Roster:
New Orleans has four tight ends currently under contract. The most scrutinized of them, and perhaps on the entire team, is Coby Fleener. The 5th year pro was signed away from the Indianapolis Colts last offseason to a five-year, $35 million dollar deal, specifically to replace the production traded away in Graham. The former Stanford product responded with a 50 catch year for 631 yards and three scores. Certainly, not bad numbers when compared to most of the rest of the tight ends in the league. Accordingly, that’s not what the Saints envisioned when inking Fleener to a mult-year deal. Fleener was slow to pick up the intricacies of the New Orleans offense. Fleener’s production was at best inconsistent, and much more will be expected from him in 2017.
Josh Hill was perhaps on his way to his best year as a Saint when a broken leg derailed his season. The 26 year old Hill was initially expected to replace Graham last year, but his own inconsistencies caused him to be passed on the depth chart by veteran Ben Watson. Hill is an athletic threat down the field for the Saints and is actually an underrated in-line blocker.
The Saints best blocker at tight end is Michael Hoomanawanui. “Hooman” missed the 2016 season with injury, but this coaching staff loves to use him in short yardage situations. The Black and Gold will use him on the line or even from the fullback position. Moreover, Jake Stoneburner spent most of the 2016 season on the Saints practice squad, his third team in three years. He’ll have his work cut out for him to make this team.
Saints Free Agent TE’s:
John Phillips was signed away from Denver around the mid point of the 2016 season, and earned playing time almost immediately. The 29 year old Phillips showed decent hands and good blocking ability, but adds little to what the New Orleans offense already has on the roster.
FREE AGENT POSSIBILITIES/RUMORS
Jimmy Graham (age 30-Seahawks)
Ahh yes, the elephant in the room. Graham’s return is nothing more than a RUMOR at this point, since he is still under contract with Seattle. Since his release is completely hypothetical at this point. The Saints will most likely search somewhere else. Also, the Saints rarely bring back a star player like Graham once released.
Jack Doyle (age 26-Colts)
Doyle is interesting for a few reasons. First, his skill set is one that would be a nice contribution to a Saints offense that likes to go down the field to it’s tight ends. Secondly, Doyle played well enough for Indianapolis to actually earn snaps away from a more highly regarded tight end named….Coby Fleener. Doyle should come relatively cheap, having played at under two million this past season.
Levine Toilolo (age 25-Falcons)
Atlanta has not been a tight end heavy offense since the retirement of Tony Gonzalez, especially given the presence of Julio Jones and their versatility at running back. Toilolo had a career high in receiving yards this year with only 264 but adds a huge presence into the lineup at 6’8″ 260lbs. Signing a young talent away from a bitter division rival always has bonuses as well.
Free Agent TE’s to AVOID:
Jermaine Gresham (age 28-Cardinals)
Gresham was linked to New Orleans two years ago, as his original contract with the Bengals expired but instead signed with Arizona. The Saints were wise to not move on him then, and they’d be wise to turn away now as well. He has never come close to living up to his 1st round draft status. Gresham was mostly a non-factor for two years in an Arizona offense. The Cardinals threw the ball as much as anyone in the league, evidenced by his combined 55 catches for 615 yards. So his results were not exactly stellar in a high octane offense.
Jared Cook (age 29-Packers)
Cooks could be viewed as a sympathetic figure. Viewed as one of the most talented receiving tight ends when in his prime, Cooks toiled under quarterback mediocrity during seven years with the Tennessee Titans and St Louis Rams. Signing a one year contract with Green Bay prior to 2016, Cook finally had a top echelon QB in Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately, injuries seem to have caught up with Cook. The Saints simply cannot afford to take another gamble on an injury prone player.
Tight End Outlook:
The Saints tight ends are serviceable but not spectacular. Fleener, in particular, has to play better in 2017. If New Orleans makes any significant moves here, it would more likely come in the draft. This only would happen if Alabama’s OJ Howard or Clemson’s Jordan Leggett were to fall out into a later round. There just aren’t any tight ends in the current projected free agent crop that offer a significant upgrade over what they currently have. Particularly, with the wealth of talent they have at the wideout position.
OFF SEASON PRIORITY = LOW-MID LEVEL
Next, Who Dat Dish will look over the Saints offensive line. But this morning, let’s give you something extra….
AFC/NFC Championship predictions:
Pittsburgh at New England
Look for the Steelers defense to bring pressure up the middle with linebacker Ryan Shazier, and stunts with James Harrison. Corners Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell will press the Patriot wideouts in hopes of disrupting the quick routes that Tom Brady likes to run. Offensively, Pittsburgh will ride it’s big three–Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’veon Bell. Bell is on a roll the likes of which only a handful of running backs have ever matched in the playoffs. Look for him to be more involved in the passing game this week. Roethlisberger will need to be sharper this week than he was against the Chiefs, and the Patriots will look to start fast to increase the pressure on the Pittsburgh QB to keep pace. If the Steelers come out of the 1st quarter within a score….
Pittsburgh 28 New England 27
Green Bay at Atlanta
Aaron Rodgers is on a roll, but his receivers are banged up. Tight end Jared Cook (see above) made some big plays last week against Dallas and will be counted on to do so again. Defensively, Clay Matthews and Micah Hyde have been playmakers, but will be challenged by the diversity of the Atlanta offense. Running Backs Devontae Freeman and Tevin Coleman will be the keys to the success of the Falcons offense, and Julio Jones will have to show he’s healthy enough to make plays down the field. Defensively, Atlanta is fast but inexperienced. This game won’t be quite as high scoring as many think….
Atlanta 31 Green Bay 28