Part three of the contract season series continues with Tre’Quan Smith. Last week’s article with Deonte Harris could have a direct impact on Smith in 2021. If Harris does emerge, it could make Smith expendable after this season. For Smith to make a mark though, he will have to do something he has not done in any of his previous three seasons. Tre’Quan Smith has never gotten significantly better year over year in his first three seasons. Although, Smith did flash at times last year and the quarterback situation might be turning around for his betterment. Let’s examine how Tre’Quan Smith’s contract situation might play out in the 2021 NFL Season.
Tre’Quan Smith’s time is running out
There is probably no other player in this series who has to prove it more than Tre’Quan Smith. This will be his fourth year in the league and it seems that he has not progressed as much as the Saints hoped when taking him in the second round of the 2018 draft. According to Pro Football Focus regarding the 2020 season, Smith “ended the year with his worst PFF grade (61.9) to date.” Andrew Erickson sums it up well with Smith, stating “he’s shown almost zero progression through his three NFL seasons.” It is difficult to be optimistic with Smith.
With Michael Thomas missing large portions of 2020, Tre’Quan Smith had his opportunity but did not capitalize. Smith started the most games of his career in 2020. Even after increasing his snap count by a significant amount last year, Smith did not eclipse his year-long touchdown total from either of his previous seasons. His catch percentage dipped in 2020 as well. Some will attribute this to the fact that Taysom Hill started several games for the Saints last year, but even with Hill players like the aforementioned Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders held their production numbers.
The case for Tre’Quan Smith
The best news for Smith is that Sanders has departed in free agency this year. The Saints also did not sign or highly draft any wide receiver in this years NFL draft. One of the Saints other pass catchers also walked in free agency in tight end Jared Cook. Smith had a great game in the last game of the Saints 2020 season. With a hampered Drew Brees and Michael Thomas, Smith turned his only three targets into three catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Both were game-highs for any Saints player in this playoff defeat.
Tre’Quan Smith has also been working hard this off-season with potential starting quarterback Jameis Winston. It is no secret that Drew Brees’ downfield throwing has been hampered the past two seasons. Smith’s best year came in his rookie season where he had a mostly healthy Brees. If Smith were to develop into an over-the-top threat, that would have likely not come with Brees the past two years. Working out this off-season with Winston, who does not lack the arm strength or will to throw the long ball, could be the key to igniting Smith in the 2021 season. Some players thrive in certain roles and being asked to be a chain-mover might not suit Smith’s style of play. Winston has given Smith the green light to “keep running” on every play according to ESPN’s Mike Triplett. Could Winston’s ability and willingness to throw deep reinvigorate Smith’s career? Time will likely tell very soon.
Will Tre’Quan Smith be signed to an extension with the Saints?
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Contract status for Tre’Quan Smith uncertain
If last year was the end of Smith’s contract with the New Orleans Saints, it is hard to think that the Saints would have extended him. Smith’s rookie year was his best year which is too little to likely receive an extension. Although, Smith did show some flashes in 2021. If his success in 2018 was due to having a healthy-armed quarterback, then Smith is likely to get his chance to shine this regular season. If the workouts with Jameis Winston pays off for both players, each could have the Saints ready to extend during or after this year.