METAIRIE, La. — Dez Bryant is back in the NFL, and he is joining one of the league’s top Super Bowl contenders. The former Dallas Cowboys receiver agreed to a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints, the team announced. Bryant’s salary was not immediately known.
Sources told Schefter that Bryant, who will sign the deal Thursday, is comfortable proving what he can do for a contending team this season before becoming a free agent again.
Although the Saints (7-1) have a seven-game win streak and are the No. 2 scoring team in the NFL, they are thin on proven receivers. Veteran Ted Ginn Jr. was placed on injured reserve last month with a knee injury, and Cameron Meredith hasn’t panned out as hoped since joining the team as a restricted free agent, with zero targets over the past three games.
Pro Bowler Michael Thomas is the only Saints receiver with more than 12 catches this season.
The Saints are rolling the dice a bit that Bryant will be a good locker room fit with a team that is on such a good run. But they did the same thing when they traded for former New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple last month.
New Orleans appears to be all-in on a Super Bowl run, with 39-year-old quarterback Drew Brees having one of the best seasons of his career as the Saints continue to make aggressive moves to fill holes in the lineup. They also traded for backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater late in the preseason.
Bryant, who turned 30 on Sunday, had been on the open market since he was released by Dallas in April, when he was due to receive $12.5 million.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder was among the NFL’s best in his prime. He recorded three straight seasons of at least 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns from 2012 to 2014, and he earned Pro Bowl invites in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
But his production had been slipping in recent years as he battled foot and knee injuries; he had 69 catches for 838 yards and 6 touchdowns in 16 games played last year. And the Cowboys were ultimately ready to move on from what executive vice president Stephen Jones described as a “fiery” personality that could sometimes be a “distraction.”
Jones also set off Bryant when he suggested in a SiriusXM Radio interview in July that there was added pressure on young Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott with Bryant and veteran tight end Jason Witten “in his ear.”
Bryant said in a tweet that was later deleted that he was being used as a “scapegoat” and that the team’s issue was “garbage ass playcalling.” He also called Cowboys owner Jerry Jones “clueless” and blamed his release on veterans Travis Frederick and Sean Lee. Bryant called Lee a “snake.”
Soon after, Bryant tweeted several times that he holds no bitterness or anger toward the Cowboys.
Regardless, it should make for an interesting reunion when Bryant and the Saints play at Dallas in Week 13 on Thursday Night Football.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said Wednesday that it will be “exciting” to play against Bryant. He also said that he never saw the wide receiver as disruptive.
“Not at all. Ever since I got here, Dez was nothing but a help for me,” Elliott said. “Right when I got here, he took me under his wing. You’re getting a very passionate football player. You’re getting a very passionate individual. I think sometimes that’s looked at the wrong way. From the people who love this game, who’ve played, they can understand that about it being somewhat harder for other people to figure that out. I think he’s going to be a good veteran for that team.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett also reacted to the Bryant deal Wednesday.
“Dez is a great player. Dez was a great player in this organization for a long time. Really happy for him and that opportunity,” he said. “I know it’s important to him. He wants to finish his career strong. He’s done such a great job for this organization and been an impact player in this league over the course of his eight years playing. Seems like a real good opportunity for him. I know he’ll help their team.”
In New Orleans, Bryant will likely be a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver along with promising rookie Tre’Quan Smith, who posted 11 catches for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns over the past four games after Ginn was injured.
The Saints’ most pressing need is for a slot receiver. It’s unclear if Thomas or Bryant will fill that role most often. Bryant spent the majority of his career in Dallas playing on the outside, though he played more snaps than usual in the slot last year.
The Saints also worked out veteran receivers Brandon Marshall and Kamar Aiken on Tuesday before making the deal with Bryant.
ESPN’s Todd Archer contributed to this report.