It’s about time. Dez Bryant has a job again and as it turns out, it was worth the wait.
Remember when the X-man rebuffed the Ravens? Balked at the Browns? Mused about the 49ers and said he wanted a Cowboys reunion?
Well, none of those other possibilities stacks up quite like this.
Bryant, 30, who agreed to a one-year deal Wednesday with the Saints, per multiple reports, suddenly has found himself aligned with Drew Brees for his best chance to win a Super Bowl.
Along the way, the passionate Bryant can do wonders in revising a reputation that has pegged him (sometimes unfairly) as a self-absorbed player who fueled too much drama and too many headaches.
See, sometimes, you get a bit lucky.
Of course, Nov. 29 is circled on the calendar because that’s when Bryant can roll into Dallas with a chance to make a point in prime time.
But the real date to note is Feb. 3, when Super Bowl LIII will be played in Atlanta.
Make no mistake: That’s what this is about for the Saints, the hottest team in the NFL with a seven-game winning streak punctuated by their victory against the previously unbeaten Rams on Sunday.
Adding Bryant is just one more indicator of what this season of redemption – following that deflating loss on the “Minnesota Miracle” in the NFC divisional round last January – has been all along for Sean Payton and Co.
It’s Super Bowl-or-bust. Yes, the Rams – evidenced by the offseason makeover of the defense and recent acquisition of pass rusher Dante Fowler — have a similar mission. And it looks like the Saints (7-1) and Rams (8-1) could be on some type of collision course for an NFC title game rematch.
Bryant, to complement star receiver Michael Thomas and multi-tasking back Alvin Kamara, provides another layer for the NFL’s No. 2 scoring team.
Put that on top of the recent trade with the Giants to land former first-round cornerback Eli Apple to bolster a spotty secondary. Add this to the preseason trade to bring in Teddy Bridgewater as Brees’ backup, ensuring that if Payton finds himself in a situation similar to what Doug Pederson dealt with last year with the Eagles, he has his Nick Foles insurance policy.
The Saints made a play this week, too, to add pass rusher Bruce Irvin, who was dumped by Jon Gruden’s Raiders last week and instead signed with the Falcons. Irvin would have been a good addition in light of the temporary setback of injured first-round rookie Marcus Davenport.
They lost out on Irvin – and to their dreaded division rival, at that – but the pursuit still illustrated the hungry mindset that Payton is pushing.
Shoot, even the use of kick returner and Wildcat quarterback Taysom Hill shows how Payton is so aggressively pushing the envelope in the quest for some more Super Bowl glory. On occasion, he’s even taken the ball out of Brees’ hands in the red zone and given it to Hill.
That’s incredible when considering that Brees, completing 76.3% of his passes, is on pace to set the NFL’s single-season record for completion rate by topping his own mark from last year.
Then again, so much of this is about Brees. He may envision playing until he’s in his mid-40s, but in the here and now, he’s 39 and facing a possibly closing window to win another crown.
No, Bryant doesn’t need to be a No. 1 receiver for the Saints. But the Saints could stand to solidify the position.
After Thomas (70 catches, 880 yards, 5 TDs), the next-highest tally for a Saints wide receiver is the 12 receptions by promising rookie Tre’Quan Smith. Kamara (51 receptions) is as potent as any receiver out of the backfield, and tight end Ben Watson (26 catches) is a significant target, too. Putting Bryant in that mix screams huge upside that offset any apparent concerns.
Think Bryant will be a distraction because of his high-strung persona?
It’s hard to fathom that will be a problem at this point, not after Bryant engaged in so much mud-slinging toward the Cowboys from his couch – and has now landed with the type of contending team he maintained he wanted to play for, way back when his former team dumped him in April. Bryant needs the Saints more than they need him.
New Orleans just added a prideful man with a lot of fire to prove that he can still be a big-time baller. It may take a few weeks to catch on to the nuances of a complex offense, but establishing that connection is possible. Just look at Josh Gordon with the Patriots.
Bryant, when last seen on a field, wasn’t beating defenders off the line of scrimmage like he used to, and he’s never been the model for crisp route-running. But Brees only needs a tight opening to get the football to the receiver, whose ability to run after the catch could prove valuable. And here’s to guessing that Payton, arguably the NFL’s best play-caller, will know what works best with his new pick-up.
And there’s one component of Bryant’s game that probably remains: His hands, when fighting for contested passes. He’s a good bet to win with a ball up for grabs.
Perhaps he’ll get a chance to throw up the X on the biggest stage of all.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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