Coby Fleener had little trouble figuring out where he wanted to land in free agency.
NFL teams aren’t very subtle.
First, Fleener and his agent figured out which teams were seriously interested, and then, as free agency kicked into high gear, the list whittled itself down as teams bowed out financially or looked elsewhere for help at tight end.
By the time Fleener was ready to make a decision, he had a clear favorite.
“There were a few other teams, but once the Saints popped into it — and obviously I couldn’t tell them this — but obviously that was really exciting for me,” Fleener said. “The way they use the tight end, having an outstanding quarterback in Drew Brees, to me it’s a no-brainer.”
Fleener, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound prize New Orleans landed on the first day of free agency, is joining an offense that has produced a tight end with more than 70 catches in every season since 2011, when Jimmy Graham burst onto the scene.
Graham’s talents were obvious, but even with the former Pro Bowler plying his trade in Seattle last season, veteran Benjamin Watson produced a career year at age 35. Before Graham, guys like Jeremy Shockey, Billy Miller and David Thomas played key roles in the offense, even if their numbers didn’t approach the same stratosphere the Saints tight ends have occupied the past five years.
Fleener, fleet of foot even at his size — he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine four years ago — has the physical ability to stretch defenses at the seams in the same way Graham and Watson did.
“All I know is from what I’ve seen on tape in the past, and kind of the statistics from looking on the Internet and stuff like that,” Fleener said. “All of that, obviously, seems very promising. I’m excited to get downfield and stretch it as best I can.”
Fleener knows enough about coach Sean Payton’s offense to know that the Saints passing game, full of multireceiver route combinations, will feel similar to what he played in during his time in Indianapolis.
For Fleener, the biggest adjustment might be getting used to a new quarterback, no matter how much respect he has for Brees.
“I think there will be a little bit of a learning curve,” Fleener said. “It’s a new offense for me, although similar concepts to what I’ve run in the past. I think I’ll just have to get used to Drew’s throwing motion a little bit. Seeing the ball come out of his hand is probably different than seeing the ball come out of (Andrew Luck’s) hand or Matt’s hand, so I don’t think it’ll be a huge hurdle to overcome.”
Fleener’s hurdle is a bit more unique than the other receivers changing quarterbacks around the league.
A Stanford product who was picked up by the Colts in the same draft that Indianapolis nabbed Luck, Fleener has been playing with the same quarterback primarily for the past seven years, even though injuries to Luck forced Matthew Hasselbeck to take over the Colts offense down the stretch last season. Fleener’s last full-time starting quarterback other than Luck was Tavita Pritchard, who won the Cardinal’s starting job when Fleener caught 13 passes as a freshman in 2008.
“It’ll be a new experience,” Fleener said. “But I would say that Drew’s been so successful and such a good player for so long that it won’t be a huge challenge.”
Fleener plans to focus on getting up to speed in the next couple of months so he can keep the adjustment period as short as possible once the Saints hit the practice field. The Saints’ new weapon hasn’t talked to Brees yet, but when the two start learning each other’s games, Fleener wants to put his best foot forward.
He believes he might be one of the pieces that can make the Saints a contender again.
“The Super Bowl is kind of where we want to be,” he said. “Everybody starts off the year saying that, but with some of the talent the Saints already have, I’m sure adding a few pieces in this offseason, whether it’s the draft or free agency, it’s exciting to think they’re only a few pieces away from going back to the Super Bowl.”