After informing Robert Meachem on Saturday that the Saints were releasing him following six seasons and a Super Bowl victory together, coach Sean Payton told the veteran receiver, “Give me 48 hours.”
Meachem said “a few teams” called about the possibility of acquiring him, drawn by the 188 career catches he’s made for 28 touchdowns and 3,093 yards, including the playoffs. But he waved them off, telling them he needed more time to weigh his options.
“He’s always been a man of his word,” Meachem said of Payton. “So I gave him 48 hours.”
Meachem was back at practice with the Saints by Wednesday, re-signed to occupy a roster spot opened when the team placed rookie linebacker Khairi Fortt on short-term injured reserve. In comments to the media Thursday, Meachem denied taking his brief period of unemployment as a sign that his role in years past with the Saints might be reduced for the upcoming season, which begins Sunday at Atlanta.
“If they brought you back, that means you’re going to play,” Meachem said. “They ain’t bringing you back to sit down and watch and be a spectator. They brought me back to make plays.”
Certainly, Meachem’s exclusion from the first 53-man roster was a relatively surprising twist. He had hauled in 16 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns on a veteran minimum deal during the 2013 regular season as the Saints finished 11-5 and then qualified for the divisional round of the playoffs.
Those statistics weren’t as dazzling as those in his best year with the Saints and as a pro: 2009, when he had 45 receptions for 722 yards and nine touchdowns as a member of the squad that won Super Bowl XLIV. But they indicated he still had something useful to offer, especially after he left New Orleans for one year in 2012, played in San Diego on a contract that guaranteed him $14 million, then failed to live up to the sky-high expectations of his deal with career lows in catches (14) and yards (207).
Meachem had done well in run-blocking after the Saints re-acquired him in 2013. His 20.3 yards per reception would’ve led the NFL if he had enough catches to qualify for the category’s rankings.
At training camp this summer, he primarily competed with wide receivers Joe Morgan and Nick Toon for two spots under veteran Marques Colston, second-year pro Kenny Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks. Meachem didn’t outperform Morgan, whose 181 yards on 11 catches in four exhibitions topped the Saints and were the eighth-most in the league this preseason.
But it seemed he at least kept pace with Toon in drills. According to the website Pro Football Focus, in the exhibitions, he ran 50 fewer pass routes than Toon, who had 30 yards off six catches (the longest of which was for just 8 yards).
Meachem still outgained Toon with 66 yards off two grabs, one of which was for 52 yards and was tied for the team’s longest reception this preseason.
Toon nonetheless cracked the roster Saturday alongside Colston, Stills, Cooks and Morgan. Meachem didn’t.
Later, Payton suggested the Saints needed Meachem’s roster spot for Fortt, who had strained a hamstring but couldn’t be put on short-term IR until Tuesday at the earliest. The Saints coach said the organization never doubted bringing Meachem back to a receiver corps that may be short one in Atlanta on Sunday, as Stills was limited in practice Wednesday and out Thursday with a lingering quadriceps injury.
“This journey was meant to be with him, and he certainly can help us win,” quarterback Drew Brees said.
For his part, Meachem knew better than to have hurt feelings about the weekend or ponder whether his momentary release meant he was expendable, positioned at the bottom of the receiver totem pole in New Orleans.
“I don’t take it as nothing — our depth chart is different from a lot of other teams,” Meachem said. “Our first 12 plays (in any game) could be to 10 different people.”
Meachem firmly intends to be one of them.