Everyone has been in the position where you’re forced to watch a loved one or a friend fade away.
Maybe the crossword puzzle doesn’t get done as quickly. That proud gait develops a limp, then begins to hunch over. At some point, the best parts of our heroes or loved ones become memories — the ones with all the details still in the right places.
It’s hard to watch. It can be hard to accept.
That’s the position the New Orleans Saints found themselves in last season with wide receiver Marques Colston. Waves of denials washed away reality at times, but it became clear — sometimes painfully — last season that the former seventh-round draft pick out of Hofstra who beat the odds now was being beaten by the passing of time, which remains undefeated.
His hands weren’t the same as they once were. Never the best route-runner to begin with, his patterns became increasingly more rounded and off-script. When he stood on the field and took a photograph alongside Jahri Evans, Drew Brees and Zach Strief to commemorate their decade together with the Saints following the season finale, it felt like a farewell, an admission that the best days were behind them.
He knew, we knew, the team knew. The only question was whether someone would step up and admit it.
Now it looks like that time might have arrived, with ESPN and the NFL Network reporting Tuesday that the Saints likely will cut him in the coming days.
It can’t be considered a surprise if this is where things are heading, even if it is a shock to the system.
It seemed unlikely Colston could come back and count $5.9 million against the salary cap. Not when he finished last season with 45 catches for 520 yards. Not when the Saints, who live tight to the cap, could save $3.2 million by letting him go. And certainly not with Brandon Coleman, who capably filled in for the veteran late in the year, waiting in the wings.
If this is the end, how we got here shouldn’t diminish what Colston meant to this team. His tenure, if it is ending, will go down as one of the greatest ever by a Saint.
He caught Brees’ first touchdown pass with the Saints and never really stopped. If he leaves New Orleans, it will be with 9,759 receiving yards and 72 touchdowns. That production should put him in the Ring of Honor at the Superdome.
Those numbers, as well as an underdog story that resonated with the city, made Colston a fan favorite. And if he happens to leave, even though many logically know this is where things are headed, it will strike an emotional chord with the fan base.
Even though Colston never made the Pro Bowl or drew national accolades, he’s one of the reasons this organization was able to climb out of the wreckage created by previous administrations and become one of the better franchises in the NFL.
But while many probably don’t want to hear it and need time to grieve, this move could make the Saints a better team.
As general manager Mickey Loomis recently said during a radio interview, Coleman is the heir apparent to Colston. He showed it while Colston was held out of action to nurse an injury by recording nine catches for 126 yards over the final two games of the season against Jacksonville and Atlanta.
Those games, if all goes to plan, should create some confidence in the succession plan and provide a glimpse of what the Saints’ world will look like without Colston. It’s not certainly better. It’s not certainly anything. But the potential exists for it to grow into something better.
The acrobatic catches, the big plays, the undeniable moments of greatness Colston exhibited through most of his 10 years with the team began to fade away the past two seasons.
Sure, they still showed up at times. His chemistry with Brees, which allowed him to break free from his routes and sit in a zone where the quarterback could find him, allowed Colston to have several productive moments. If there’s a change of heart, Colston likely could continue to succeed on his instincts alone.
But there often were drops and jumps that didn’t look like they used to, which all led to bouts of ineffectiveness. Those things took away from Colston’s greatness in the short term. But in the long term, these past couple of seasons will be rolled into the big picture and forgotten about.
Colston should go down as one of the greatest players in the history of this organization. And, as a seventh-round pick, there’s a good chance he’ll forever represent the greatest draft value ever acquired by the organization.
And if you want to highlight the final years of his tenure, you should remember the times he stood off to the side and helped tutor guys like Willie Snead, Brandin Cooks and Coleman on how to run a route or show them where Brees expected them to be on a specific play.
Now, if this is the end, it will be up to Coleman, another undervalued asset who is overcoming odds just to be here, to step up and fill the void. If he succeeds, you can be certain some degree of his success will be the result of Colston’s tutelage.
It’s hard to see it end, to let go of an era and move into the unknown. But there could be light down the unknown path.
Colston’s light burned so brightly for so long that the odds of there being anything more than random flickers have grown dim.
But when that light was on, it was really on. It’s hard to imagine anyone lighting up the Superdome like he did for 10 years.