Michael Hoomanawanui made the leap from expendable to essential in about three-quarters of a season last year.
Hoomanawanui, who had spent three years in New England, found himself on a plane heading south after the third week of the season, swapped to New Orleans in exchange for former Saints defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.
All of a sudden, Hoomanawanui found himself in the unstable position of learning a playbook on the fly and simultaneously trying to prove himself to the rest of the NFL in a contract year.
“Being traded is part of the business, it’s not fun, having to move your family mid-season. You hope to stay (in a place) for some time, but like I said, it’s a business, and I’m just happy to be here now.”
Hoomanawanui eased the uncertainty of being traded by making himself a valuable piece in the Saints offense.
Acquiring the six-year veteran allowed New Orleans to be more versatile on offense, lining up Hoomanawanui as a fullback or blocking back and then throwing out of the formation against a defense stacked up to stop the running game.
Known mostly as a blocker in his career, Hoomanawanui also proved to be a valuable weapon in the passing game. Used on short throws and inside the red zone, Hoomanawanui caught 11 passes — the third-highest total of his career — for 76 yards and three touchdowns, forcing defenses to account for his whereabouts no matter where he lined up in the formation.
The New Orleans playbook can be difficult to learn initially, particularly given the amount of room left for receivers to adjust their routes to fit what quarterback Drew Brees is seeing, but Hoomanawanui caught on quickly enough to make an impact right away. He made his first two catches with the Saints in his first active game with the team.
“My first couple of weeks here, I definitely saw that (the playbook can be complicated, but thanks to the coaching staff here and guys like Ben (Watson) and Josh (Hill), and Drew (Brees), it made it pretty easy,” Hoomanawanui said.
New Orleans liked Hoomanawanui’s contributions enough to make the tight end a priority in the offseason, rewarding the 30-year-old with a three-year, $5.1 million contract in the offseason.
Hoomanawanui, who makes his offseason home in Arizona, couldn’t have been happier.
Few NFL players get the chance to turn a midseason trade into relatively stable long-term security. A three-year deal in the NFL could change at any moment, but for a veteran like Hoomanawanui who has built a reputation as a blocker, the deal offers stability.
When the Saints opened organized team activities on Tuesday, Hoomanawanui took the field with a group that considers him a key part of the offense moving forward.
“It’s never easy being traded and coming in, in the middle of the season trying to learn a new offense,” Hoomanawanui said.
“But thankfully, I have a great room, a great coaching staff, and they made that transition as easy as possible. I’m just excited to have a full offseason here, really get the fine details down, get used to the new teammates, and we’ll build that camaraderie for the season.”