The Saints strengthened their offense for their playoff push by agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant on Wednesday. Bryant was to a sign a contract and join the team Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Bengals were preparing to play without A.J. Green, who was dealing with a foot injury sustained in the 37-34 win two weeks ago over Tampa Bay.
Bryant has not played since Dallas terminated his contract in the offseason, but he impressed the Saints coaches enough in a workout Tuesday for them to add him to the roster of a team that was doing fine without him.
New Orleans is 7-1 after winning seven straight with Drew Brees at quarterback. Brees could be positioned for a huge game against the Bengals, who rank last in the NFL in pass defense.
The Saints’ most productive receiver by far is Michael Thomas with 70 catches. Running back Alvin Kamara has 51 receptions and tight end Ben Watson is next with 26. Wide receivers Tre’Quan Smith and Ten Ginn Jr. have combined for only 12 catches and Ginn is on injured reserve.
“We already had one of the best offenses in the league, if not the best,” Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. “This gives us another key component.”
The acquisition of Bryant comes two weeks after the Saints made a trade with the New York Giants to acquire cornerback Eli Apple, who immediately became a starter.
“Just adding weapons helps any team and I think that’s going to help our receiver corps, help our offense,” Saints linebacker A.J. Klein said. “Eli has come in and helped our defense. Any time (the Saints upgrade the roster) it gets us fired up, but we’re ready to get back to work and focus on this game.”
It’s too early to tell how much Bryant will play or even if he’ll play. Apple arrived on a Wednesday and played virtually the entire game four days later, but wide receiver requires more mental preparation than cornerback does.
The signing of Bryant did raise some eyebrows because of his volatile personality. He was immersed in controversy throughout his career and took some parting shots at the Cowboys’ organization after being released.
New Orleans has cultivated a tight-knit team that has been controversy free.
“I don’t know Dez personally,” Saints tight end Benjamin Watson said. “Obviously I’ve watched him over the years like you have and I’ve seen the tremendous athlete and receiver and the passion for the game.
“Early in my career, I was told that the job of the general manager and the head coach is to make the team as good as it can be. As a player, I trust the front office and the coaches and I’m confident he wouldn’t be coming in if the powers that be weren’t convinced that he can contribute and help us win games.”
The New Orleans defense likely won’t have to contend with Cincinnati’s best wide receiver and so it will be focused on containing running back Joe Mixon (123 yards rushing, two touchdowns vs. Tampa Bay) and forcing quarterback Andy Dalton to lean on his short-handed receivers.
While the Bengals (5-3) prepared to face the Saints after a bye week, Green received an second opinion on the injured foot from highly regarded foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, who said Green doesn’t need surgery.
But that does not mean Green will play Sunday. It appears that the Bengals will look at contingency plans for their top receiver for at least this week and next week’s visit to Baltimore.
The Bengals are hoping that wide receiver Tyler Boyd and oft-injured John Ross step up to help fill the void left by Green’s absence to provide targets for Dalton.
“Obviously, it puts a lot of pressure on us as individuals because we know what he brings to the table,” Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “I mean, he’s A.J. Green. A.J. Dream is what we call him — it’s a dream to have him on the team.”
Green is Cincinnati’s top wideout with 687 yards and six touchdown catches. Boyd has 49 catches for 620 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Ross sat out the game at Tampa Bay with a groin injury but returned to practice this week. In five games this season, the 2017 No. 9 overall pick has seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
Cincinnati is 3-6-1 in games without Green, who has missed some time in three of the last five seasons.
“Well, you know, again, we just got to get ready to play New Orleans,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said.