I know a free agent whiff when I see one. I know the warning signs, the symptoms, and the eventual outcome.
Let me paint a picture, or I could just insert one below.
Benjamin Watson was successful in the black and gold. He was a moderately compensated player that fit the scheme, the locker room, and the community. He was a leader and team captain, so It would be safe to describe the former Saint as an overall asset to the team on and off the field. The only problem was he wasn’t quite Jimmy Graham and he was an aging talent, so Payton saw an opportunity to upgrade the Joker TE position and went all in on it by signing Coby Fleener to a Top 10 tight end contract.
To be fair, a gigantic miss at the other Joker position with running back C.J. Spiller will make you do that, but that’s another story entirely. We were then sold fluff by the organization as a whole (because it is one big machine) that Fleener would be like having a young Jeremy Shockey.
"We watched a lot of film on him last year, just because we played in the AFC South," Brees said of Fleener's time with the Indianapolis Colts, via The Times-Picayune. "It felt like every time we turned on the film to watch an opponent that we were about to play, I'm watching Colts film or Fleener film. It was like, 'Man, this guy has an uncanny ability to separate.' He's always open. There's always a place to throw the ball where he can get it."
Truth is by roughly mid-season, Fleener was splitting receiving snaps with Josh Hill as the initial love affair fizzled. He was anything but always open and ended up being a downgrade at a significantly higher cost. 74 catches and 825 yards to go with 6 touchdowns - those were Ben Watson’s number his final season with the Saints. Coby Fleener finished with 50 catches for 631 yards and 4 touchdowns. We quite literally went from Windows XP to the buggy Windows ME in one keystroke.
I’m not here to Roman Harp on Fleener because he isn’t horrible. He’s just not the matchup TE that Sean Payton thought he was getting when he signed him. He’s a big Y/slot target. Essentially, he’s a good target in zone and he does well to sit down in coverage and secure the catch. Consistently catching the ball in traffic and his route running as it pertains to separating from man coverage are where he falters. Throwing him seam routes is an iffy proposition, and expecting him to win 1 on 1’s at a high rate unrealistic.
Where Fleener offers value is in goal line situations where he’ll get lost behind the defense and come down with the catch in the back of the end zone, or make a focus catch between the outstretched hands of two defenders. He’s also a solid 3rd Down option where he’ll make the wide open catch over the middle, because your playmakers were able to draw coverage elsewhere.
All sarcasm aside
So long as he’s not taking too much contact at the POA, he’s fine. Of course, contact and football are often synonymous, so there’s that, but with Payton bringing in Alvin Kamara (who was electrifying against the Browns) and Adrian Peterson to go along with increased roles for Michael Thomas, Willie Snead, and Mark Ingram - touches will be scarce for the 2nd-year Saints tight end. Quite frankly, his chances to duplicate or exceed his 2016 totals are anorexic at best, and it would be wise not to expect him to.