It looked like Delvin Breaux was going to return action either this week or next week.
Now, his timeline is unclear.
The Saints cornerback is not expected to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after suffering a setback in his recovery from a broken fibula during Thursday’s practice, according to a source. He was not on the field during the open portion of practice on Friday.
The nature of the setback is unclear, though the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Breaux suffered a 3- to 6-week injury.
That timeline could create a difficult decision for the Saints, because they have until next week to add Breaux to the 53-man roster. Each team can bring two players back from injured reserve and has 21 days to activate a player after he returns to practice. Breaux began practicing on Oct. 20.
Regardless of whether Breaux is activated to the active roster, one of the return designations was used when he returned to practice. Offensive tackle Zach Strief, who has been out with a knee injury, has been pegged as another possible candidate to return later this season.
Coach Sean Payton might have offered a clue about Breaux's availability to return when he mentioned the deadline for his return when asked his progress on Friday.
“He looked good. Listen, he got a lot of good work in this week, so we’ll see where he’s at,” Payton said.
New Orleans has been looking forward to adding Breaux, who had a standout rookie season in 2015, to a secondary that has been one of the strengths of a resurgent defense. But it is not immediately clear how Breaux will fit into the picture if or when he returns to the field.
Saints rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore has been one of the standout players of the season, and second-year cornerback Ken Crawley has gotten off to a strong start. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said Friday the team would be smart about easing Breaux back in.
“We certainly don’t want to do anything that disrupts what we’ve been able to do over the last five weeks of the season,” Allen said. “We feel comfortable with where we’re at, and yet the same time you can never have enough good players.”
Breaux was considered one of the bright spots of the defense after signing with the Saints out of the Canadian Football League in 2015, but he has battled injuries since. He suffered a broken fibula in Week 1 last year, attempted to come back, and then ended the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
This year's injury, originally diagnosed as a contusion, came with some controversy. The Saints placed Breaux on the trade block as the team grew frustrated with his inability to return, according to a source. But a second opinion revealed a fracture, which led to New Orleans firing two members of its medical staff.