Wide receiver Robert Meachem earned his new contract with the Saints by following a two-step recipe.
He blocked his rear off on run plays. He blew past defensive backs to catch long passes from Drew Brees.
More than ever, he now understands how the first step sets up the second one, how both boost his career and the Saints’ aspirations of winning a second NFL championship.
“I know if I block on the outside, it makes it easier when you’re running your routes,” Meachem said during a telephone interview Monday. “ You ... see how it takes a toll on DBs.”
No Saints wideout run-blocked more in 2013 than Meachem, who did so on 249 occasions, including the postseason, according to the website Pro Football Focus. Conversely, he ran only 202 passing routes, fourth behind teammates Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Lance Moore (who’s gone to Pittsburgh).
Yet, despite the limited number of routes he ran, Meachem gained 324 yards and scored two touchdowns on 16 receptions before New Orleans reached the divisional round of the playoffs. He had the most yards per catch (20.3) on his team and would’ve led the NFL in that category if he had enough grabs to be ranked.
From Meachem’s vantage point, he didn’t mind his prolific blocking. He did it well, and it also facilitated his getting separation on the reduced number of routes he was allotted, mostly when left one-on-one with cornerbacks he’d tirelessly engaged on rushing plays and worn down.
It’s a mindset he learned from observing former Steelers receiver Hines Ward and Falcons wideout Roddy White.
“(They) would just block guys over and over,” Meachem said. As a result, “DBs can’t make the tackle, don’t want to make the tackle. It ... makes life easier.”
But that’s not all Meachem’s two-fold approach did. He agreed Friday to return to the Saints on a one-year deal ESPN reported was worth up to $920,000, with a $65,000 signing bonus.
There have been more lucrative playing deals struck this offseason. But Meachem did well for himself after seemingly being on the brink of forced retirement months ago.
After being in New Orleans since the Saints drafted him in 2007, Meachem in 2012 signed a four-year, $25.5 million contract with San Diego that guaranteed him $14 million. But the Chargers released him after he caught a paltry 14 passes for 207 yards and two TDs.
Meachem returned to the Saints at the beginning of the 2013 regular season on a minimum one-year contract. He said Monday he drew interest from other teams when he became a free agent in March, but he admitted the San Diego misadventure and his Saints repatriation convinced him — once and for all — that New Orleans was home.
It’s not just the catches, yards, receiving touchdowns and 2009 Super Bowl ring he’s gotten for the Saints that make New Orleans home. It’s also the chance to pass on lessons Colston and former Saints receivers such as Moore, Devery Henderson and Terrance Copper taught him when he was new in town. Those Meachem is eager to mentor are Stills, Joe Morgan, Nick Toon, Chris Givens, Andy Tanner and Charles Hawkins, who were all on the expanded offseason roster Monday and don’t have more than 16 regular-season games of experience.
No, he said, he isn’t reluctant to share his NFL savvy with players auditioning for the same job he is.
“For you to hold something back from a player because you feel like he has an opportunity to take your spot, then he will take your spot,” Meachem said. “Now in my eyes, I don’t believe anybody’s going to take my spot — so I’m going to give them all my knowledge of the game so when I do retire and they’re the veterans, they can relay the same message to younger guys.”