What are the Saints to do with the enigmatic Tre’Quan Smith? This is an important question that Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton will have to address during this NFL offseason. Smith, a second-year wide receiver out of the University of Central Florida had a somewhat promising rookie year for New Orleans in 2018: 28 receptions for 427 yards and five touchdowns. That regular season, Smith was fourth in receiving for the Saints, behind fellow wide receiver Michael Thomas, running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Benjamin Watson. Maybe more importantly, Smith was also fourth in targets behind the same three players, showing that as the season progressed, he slowly but surely gained quarterback Drew Brees’ trust.
It then stood to reason to expect that Smith would take a leap forward in production during the 2019 season, and perhaps become that “number two” wide receiver opposite Michael Thomas that the Saints have been longing for. Unfortunately, instead of a giant leap, what we witnessed from Tre’Quan in 2019 was a sophomore slump.
After playing in 15 games in 2018, Smith was available for only 11 games last season. The production too went down: 18 receptions for 234 yards, though he equaled his five touchdowns from two years ago. He fell from fourth in receiving on the Saints to eighth, behind the likes of running back Latavius Murray, 100-year old wideout Ted Ginn Jr. and tight end Josh Hill, none of whom were expected to have more receptions than Smith.
Despite Michael Thomas obliterating NFL receiving records this past season with an incredible 149 catches for 1725 yards and nine touchdowns, the Saints desperately needed another wide receiver to emerge and become a consistently viable outlet for Drew Brees, especially in games with heightened importance like playoffs games. Against the Minnesota Vikings in the Saints’ 26-20 Wild Card loss earlier this month, Smith was targeted once and had a grand total of zero receptions.
With two seasons remaining on his four-year rookie contract and a low cap hit in 2020 ($912,256) and in 2021 ($1,003256), the Saints can afford to give Smith another chance next season. They can also afford to cut him, should another wide receiver (obtained either in free agency or via the draft) outshine him in camp this summer.
My belief is that New Orleans will hold on to Smith until late in training camp, but his spot on the team at the beginning of the 2020-2021 regular season is far from assured. The 2020 Saints’ training camp is likely to be Smith’s last chance to convince New Orleans’ front office that he can still become what they envisioned when they drafted him in the third round in the 2018 NFL draft: a bona fide Robin to Michael Thomas’ Batman. You are on the clock, Mister Smith.