Saints offseason overview: Wide receivers
METAIRIE – Emmanuel Sanders might be the answer.
The New Orleans Saints have been rebuilding their wide receiving corps for years.
They struck gold when they used a second-round draft choice to select Michael Thomas from Ohio State in 2016. Thomas has been outstanding each season and last season was named first-team All-Pro after shattering the NFL single-season record for receptions.
But the Saints have had much less success in their attempts to surround Thomas with effective complementary receivers that would give Drew Brees multiple defendable targets.
They did land Ted Ginn Jr. as a veteran free agent in 2017 and he was initially a competent deep threat to complement Thomas’ underneath ability. But he missed most of the 2018 season because of arthroscopic knee surgery and last season had his least productive full season in New Orleans. He is an unrestricted free agent and will turn 35 next month.
Since drafting Thomas, New Orleans has signed nearly 40 other wide receivers, including veterans such as Hakeem Nicks, Cameron Meredith, Brandon Coleman, Michael Floyd, Brandon Tate, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Rishard Matthews in addition to using a third-round draft choice on Tre’Quan Smith in 2018.
Only Smith remains on the team. He has shown potential without emerging as a consistently dependable receiver.
But last week the Saints signed Sanders to a two-year contract. He’s 33 years old and perhaps past his prime, but he seems to have much more in the tank than any of the other veterans receives signed since Ginn.
Sanders started last season with Denver and finished it with San Francisco after being traded. He caught 66 passes for 869 yards (13.2 avg.) and five touchdowns. He had five catches for 71 yards in the 49ers’ three post-season games.
The two-time Pro Bowler caught seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass in San Francisco’s 48-46 victory over the Saints last December in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I’ve been a fan of Sean Payton and Drew Brees for a very long time,” Sanders said in a conference call with reporters covering the Saints. “I’ve seen them do it at a high level for a very long time and I’m excited to join (the team). Obviously, being a receiver in this offense is something special.
“To play with Drew Brees, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time – how could I pass up that opportunity and to play in a Sean Payton system.”
Sanders, who said Brees texted him to say he was excited about the signing, added that he doesn’t know “exactly” what his role will be and “I’m just going to be me.”
The receiver said he signed with New Orleans because “I have a great chance at winning another Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints.”
Smith will compete with Sanders for the top spot behind Thomas. The only other receivers on the roster are Deonte Harris, who’s primarily a return specialist, Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Krishawn Hogan.
So wide receiver still figures to be very much on the Saints radar in the draft and perhaps another veteran will be signed at some point.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…