Coby Fleener

TE Coby Fleener Still Dealing With Concussion Symptoms

Veteran tight end Coby Fleener admitted that he’s still dealing with symptoms from a concussion he suffered last November, and the lingering effects may prevent him from joining a new team by the time training camp starts.

“It’s still there, unfortunately,’’ Fleener said in an interview with Don Banks of The Athletic. “I’m just hoping it heals and gets better from time, I guess. I’d still like to play, but I have to get healthy first before I can even make that decision really. That’s the frustrating aspect of it. The doctors aren’t able to say, ‘Oh, in four to six weeks, he’ll be right as rain.’ That’s just not the reality with concussions. It’s a frustration for every athlete and every doctor who treats them and every coach who has to coach them.’’

The 29-year-old had gotten off to a solid start for the Saints last season, hauling in 22 receptions for 295 yards and two touchdowns through 11 games. However, Fleener suffered a concussion in late November, forcing him to miss the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. Fleener has yet to fully recover from the injury, and after having signed a five-year, $36MM contract with the Saints back in 2016, the tight end was released by the organization back in May.

The veteran has some logistical hurdles to overcome before he could consider signing with a team. While Banks writes that several organizations have expressed interest, they need to wait until Fleener is capable of passing the NFL’s concussion protocol. With all the uncertainty, the former second-rounder isn’t sure if he’ll be back in the NFL by the time training camp rolls around.

“I don’t know, because that’s kind of guesswork,’’ he said. “If you would have asked me the day after my concussion, I would have said, ‘Oh, yeah, I imagine I’ll be fine in a week.’ I don’t think anyone foresaw this happening. But I don’t want to try and put a timetable on it in any way, shape or form at this point.’’

Fleener has spent six years in the NFL with the Saints and Colts. His best season came in 2014 with Indy, when he compiled 51 receptions for 774 yards and eight touchdowns.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Sean Payton Discusses Ingram, Fleener, Barrett

The Saints have had a relatively busy offseason, but things have seemingly ramped up for the organization over the past few weeks. After making seven selections during last month’s draft, New Orleans subsequently made headlines for several reasons.

The team released veteran tight end Coby Fleener, who had spent two seasons with the organization (including a 2016 campaign where he hauled in 50 receptions). We later learned that running back Mark Ingram had been hit with a four-game suspension, and reports later indicated that the former first-rounder would be skipping the offseason program.

Clearly, it’s been a busy couple of weeks for the Saints. Coach Sean Payton recently discussed these subjects, and he also touched on some of his rookies and tryout players. NewOrleansSaints.com has the entire interview, but we’ve highlighted some of the notable soundbites below:

On Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension:

“It happens in our league. We receive the same notice when him and his agent are receiving the notice and you deal with it. It goes under PED’s but I know Mark well enough to know it wasn’t a performing enhancing drug. He’ll better be able to explain the other parts of it, but it happened with Willie (Snead when he was suspended) last year, so you adjust like it would be an injury.”

On Ingram’s absence from OTAs:

“No. Listen, we spoke a couple times before the offseason program started, and it is what it is. He’ll know what to do. Now do I think he should be here? Yes, but it’s optional and we’ll see him at the minicamp.”

On the decision to release tight end Coby Fleener, and whether the team had planned the transaction earlier this offseason:

“Well, I don’t know that I would say that. He’s still working through the process of getting cleared and he’s still working through being without symptoms, but I also felt like for the team it was something that was going to be best for us.”

On what the team looks for in their quarterbacks (the Saints are currently rostering undrafted rookie (and former Ohio State product) J.T. Barrett):

“How accurate is he? Does he complete passes in time? Does he get through his progressions? How quickly does he learn? Can he get to the huddle and call the play? Can he handle the cadence? His ability to ingest, process and go ahead and take it to the field.

“There is a leadership presence about [Barrett]. He is in an athlete. He has played a lot of competitive football and he has handled this camp very well. (He has) A lot of the things that you look for in that position. He was certainly worthy of being drafted and he has done a good job here.”

On what the team looks for in “veteran trial” players (NFL teams are allowed to audition up to five of these players):

“We have a vision for them. What kind of shape they are in? They have played so what do we think they can do to help us. We have (veteran tryout players at) a handful of positions, but we have had players (that we’ve signed). Billy Miller found his way onto the roster that way. So it is really about how quickly they’re getting up to speed, the same evaluation that is taking place with the rest of the players.”

Extra Points: Panthers, Fleener, Avril, Falcons, Witten

Earlier this week, we learned that Curtis Fuller had resigned from his gig as the Panthers defensive backs coach. While no explanation was provided at the time, ESPN’s David Newton reports that the decision stemmed from the NFL’s investigation into owner Jerry Richardson.

Ultimately, the team had received “complaints of workplace misconduct” by Fuller, with women describing his conduct as “inappropriate.”

“After approaching Coach Fuller with the findings of an investigation into complaints of inappropriate conduct, we accepted his resignation,” said team spokesperson Steven Drummond. “The Panthers are deeply committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally.”

Fuller had been with the organization since 2013. Following Steve Wilks promotion to defensive coordinator, Fuller was named the defensive backs coach prior to last season.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the NFL…

  • The Saints released tight end Coby Fleener earlier today, and ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that the team designated the transaction as a post-June 1st release. That means New Orleans will clear $3MM in cap space on June 2nd. The veteran’s $3.4MM base salary became guaranteed in February, and the team could have saved $3.2MM against the cap by releasing him prior to that date.
  • Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff says he’s still hoping to add defensive line depth in free agency (Twitter link via 92.9 The Game). That would help to explain Atlanta’s recent interest in former Redskins and Cowboys defensive tackle Terrell McClain. After losing defensive tackle Dontari Poe to the Panthers and Adrian Clayborn to the Patriots earlier this offseason, the Falcons are looking to restock the front four.
  • Cliff Avril has not officially retired, but it sounds like he is prepared to move on from football. The former Seahawks defensive end will join Sports Radio 950 KJR as a midday co-host beginning in July, the station announced. The press release makes it sound as though Avril’s playing days are through. “Cliff had an amazing career and we are lucky to be part of his next chapter,” iHeartMedia Seattle exec Rich Moore said. However, Avril’s open letter to Seahawks fans last week indicated that he would make his decision after speaking further with medical experts. The Seahawks released the 10-year veteran last week amidst concerns about his neck.
  • Long-time Cowboys star Jason Witten announced his retirement earlier today, and his former quarterback penned the tight end a farewell letter. “Sometimes in life you are lucky to come across someone that will change your life,” Tony Romo wrote on Twitter. “Most of the time you don’t realize it at the moment the profound impact and impression someone will have on you. The difference with Jason Witten is that I knew right away the impact he would have on me. Not only was Jason the most talented, humble and hardest working individual on our football team, but he was one of the most genuine, good-hearted people you could ever meet.” Romo also referred to Witten as the “best” player he ever played with.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Saints Release TE Coby Fleener

The Saints have released tight end Coby Fleener, a league source tells Ben Volin of The Boston Globe (on Twitter). The timing of the move is curious since $3.4MM of his base salary became guaranteed in February. The Saints, in theory, could have saved $3.2MM against the cap by releasing him months earlier.

Fleener finished the 2017 on injured reserve due to a concussion and his 2018 salary was guaranteed for injury. It’s possible that Fleener was not medically cleared by his guarantee date in February, which would have prevented New Orleans from shedding his salary. Fleener signed a five-year, $36MM free agent deal with New Orleans in 2016 that was supposed to keep him under control through the 2020 campaign.

Before last year’s concussion, Fleener had not missed a game since his rookie season, suiting up for all 16 of the Colts’ contests from 2013-15 and each of the Saints’ games last season. Last year, he was on the field for eleven games before a big hit from Rams defensive back Blake Countess put him on the sidelines.

Fleener wasn’t a primary target of Drew Brees in 2017, but he was the Saints’ leading receiver at tight end at the time of his injury. From 2013-2016, Fleener averaged a healthy 52 catches and four touchdowns per season.

The Saints signed Benjamin Watson in March and he now projects as the team’s leading TE. Behind him, the Saints have a group of tight ends including Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui, Garrett Griffin, and Alex Ellis that will jockey for playing time and roster spots.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Eagles, Giants, Fleener

In an excellent piece for CBS Sports, former NFL agent Joel Corry sets forth how the Eagles might approach this offseason, and he offers his take on the team’s prospects in the short- and long-term. The roster, of course, is loaded, thanks to quality drafting, savvy trades, and an MVP-caliber QB playing on a rookie contract. But cap space is at a premium and will continue to be in the near future.

Luckily for Philadelphia, 19 of its 22 starters are under contract for the 2018 season, but the team will still need to create cap space. The Eagles could ask LT Jason Peters, who is expected to return next year, to take a pay cut, and they could create $5MM of space by declining Torrey Smith‘s 2018 option and another $5MM by releasing or trading Vinny Curry, all of which look like real possibilities. The expected extension of Brandon Graham would also free up some room.

Corry also believes that the team should not trade Nick Foles unless someone makes an offer that Philadelphia cannot refuse, which sounds like at least a second-round pick.

Now for more from the NFC:

  • Eagles OC Frank Reich has emerged as the favorite for the Colts’ HC job, and assuming the two sides can strike a deal, Philadelphia will almost certainly not let RBs coach Duce Staley interview for the Giants’ OC vacancy, as Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv tweets (indeed, Staley could become the Eagles’ next OC if Reich departs). Yesterday, Vacchiano and Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com broke down where Big Blue’s OC search currently stands, and it’s not exactly good news for new head coach Pat Shurmur.
  • As we learned this morning, the Buccaneers fired defensive line coach Jay Hayes, and Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders suggests that more pink slips could be coming for Tampa Bay’s coaching assistants, as the team has still not formally announced its 2018 coaching staff.
  • Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times believes the Buccaneers could turn to Brentson Buckner as a potential replacement for Hayes (Twitter link). Buckner served as the Cardinals’ defensive line coach from 2013-17, and Arizona’s DL was generally quite successful under Buckner’s watch. Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht was the Cardinals’ VP of player personnel in 2013, so he has some personal familiarity with Buckner.
  • Last Wednesday, $3.4MM of Coby Fleener‘s 2018 base salary became guaranteed, as Nick Underhill of the Advocate points out (via Twitter). The Saints‘ tight end is under contract through 2020, but he has not become the top target for Drew Brees that many expected when he signed with New Orleans several years ago. The Saints could have saved $3.2MM against the cap by releasing him prior to Wednesday, but there is no obvious replacement on the roster, and if he has not been medically cleared following his season-ending concussion, that could have further complicated matters. It therefore looks like Fleener will be back in New Orleans in 2018.
  • The 49ers recently signed QB Jimmy Garoppolo and DE Cassius Marsh to contract extensions before they could hit the open market, and Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at the rest of San Francisco’s free agent class to determine who might be next in line for a new contract. Some of the more prominent names on the list include center Daniel Kilgore, with whom the team has had contract discussions, Carlos Hyde, who may be on his way to a team that features more of a power-running approach, and DE Tank Carradine, whose talents may also be better-suited to a different scheme.

Saints Move Coby Fleener To IR

The concussion Coby Fleener sustained against the Rams last week induced the Saints to place their starting tight end on IR, Nick Underhill of The Advocate tweets.

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported this week Fleener’s concussion could linger. He was declared out for this week. To replace Fleener on the 53-man roster, the Saints promted tight end Garrett Griffin from their practice squad, Rapoport tweets.

The Saints also waived cornerback De’Vante Harris, per Herbie Teope of NOLA.com (on Twitter), and promoted cornerback Arthur Maulet from the practice squad.

Fleener has not missed a game since his rookie season, suiting up for all 16 of the Colts’ contests from 2013-15 and each of the Saints’ games last season. He played in 11 New Orleans tilts this year prior to a nasty Blake Countess hit in Los Angeles.

The former second-round pick has become a lower-end target for Drew Brees this season, averaging 26.8 yards per game, but still leads the Saints’ tight ends by a healthy margin. Fleener caught two touchdown passes this season, but it will mark by far his lowest receiving output since his rookie year. He finished with 631 air yards last season. Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui and now Griffin comprise the tight end contingent on New Orleans’ active roster.

Fleener is under contract through the 2020 season.

Harris played in all 11 Saints games this season, starting one. The 2016 UDFA recorded 15 tackles and deflected two passes. Maulet played in one career game, against the Panthers in Week 3. He may well have a chance to play a second against the Panthers on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC South Notes: Winston, Panthers, Saints

Jameis Winston is on track to return for the Buccaneers this weekend after missing time with a shoulder injury. But the third-year quarterback potentially has another battle to fight off the field. An Uber driver accused Winston of sexual assault, and although he’s denied the allegation, the NFL’s launched an investigation that is expected to carry over into the offseason. Thursday, Winston was asked if he’s worried a suspension would come his way. The Bucs quarterback (via the Tampa Bay Times’ Greg Auman, on Twitter) said he has “no fear at all.” ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this month many around the league expect the Winston proceedings to become a contentious process.

Here’s the latest from the NFC South.

  • Ron Rivera is comfortable playing Greg Olsen on Sunday even if he doesn’t practice this week, Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer tweets, adding the Panthers‘ Pro Bowl tight end’s rest thus far during the practice week is “precautionary.” Olsen aggravated the foot injury that sidelined him for most of this season on Sunday and returned this to see the Charlotte-stationed foot specialist who performed his surgery, Person reports (on Twitter). Olsen did not re-fracture his foot, per Person, but has a pain-tolerance decision to make before playing. He’s uncertain to face the Saints, who have their own issues at tight end.
  • Coby Fleener will not play in Sunday’s pivotal matchup with the Panthers. The Saints tight end is in concussion protocol and is week-to-week, but he’s not going to be ready for Week 13, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The NFL insider notes this unfortunate setback could linger for Fleener. While not a high-end threat in the Saints’ passing game, Fleener has suited up in all 11 Saints contests this season. Backup Josh Hill has just nine receptions this year.
  • Willie Snead has joined Fleener as a bit player in New Orleans’ passing game, being well off his paces set the past two seasons. The third-year wideout admitted he is frustrated about his current role, one that has him at just three receptions for 32 yards, Amos Morale III of NOLA.com notes. Snead served a three-game suspension and missed multiple games due to injury, but for an exclusive-rights free agent that came into training camp wanting an amended contract, Snead is having a disastrous season for that prospect. He caught 69 and 72 passes the past two years, respectively, and approached 1,000 yards in each. Snead will be a restricted free agent in 2018.
  • It will take a contract similar to the one the Panthers authorized for Trai Turner to keep the Turner-Andrew Norwell guard tandem intact long-term, Joel Corry of CBS Sports writes. The recent rise in guard money figures to benefit Norwell, a UFA-to-be and possibly set to be the top guard available on next year’s market. The franchise tag won’t be an option for Carolina, considering the system groups all offensive linemen together, and Corry writes Norwell could exceed Kevin Zeitler‘s guard-record five-year, $60MM pact.

NFC Notes: Doctson, Cards, DGB, Saints

An Achilles issue continues to bother Redskins first-round receiver Josh Doctson, who will miss his third straight game Sunday, and head coach Jay Gruden didn’t rule out an eventual trip to injured reserve Friday. “We’ll have to wait and see if this thing gets any better the next week or so and go from there,” he said (via JP Finlay of CSN Mid-Atlantic). “I hate to put him on IR and then he’s better tomorrow, you know what I mean, because he’s such a valuable, big play type guy. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and see what happens.” Doctson is dealing with pain when he “pushes off,” according to Gruden, which Finlay notes is especially problematic for a receiver. The 22nd pick from TCU appeared in the Redskins’ first two games, catching two passes for 66 yards, but he previously missed all of training camp and the preseason.

More from the NFC:

  • After going without a catch or a target in the Cardinals’ 33-21 win over San Francisco on Thursday, wideout Michael Floyd is on a career-worst reception pace through five weeks. That led head coach Bruce Arians to posit Friday that Floyd’s status as an impending free agent is a factor in his sagging production. “I’m sure that has a lot to do with it,” Arians said of Floyd, who has caught only 12 of 35 targets through five games. Floyd averaged 52 receptions on 97 targets over his first four years, and the Cardinals remain confident in him, per Arians (Twitter links via Darren Urban of the team’s website).
  • Although Eagles receiver Dorial Green-Beckham hasn’t posted gaudy numbers this year (seven catches, 65 yards in three games), the club is pleased with the mid-August trade acquisition. “He’s done a nice job. He’s really grasped the offense and understood his role,” head coach Doug Pederson stated (via Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com). Green-Beckham, whom the Eagles got from the Titans for offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, has seen his offensive snap percentage rise in each of Philly’s games. The 2015 second-round pick participated in 32 percent of the Eagles’ plays in their opener and was on the field for 46 percent and 49 percent in Weeks 2 and 3.
  • The Saints were disappointed with high-priced free agent signing Coby Fleener after the first two weeks of the season, but the tight end has turned it around since, writes Herbie Teope of NOLA.com. After picking up a meager three catches on 12 targets in his first pair of games as a Saint, the ex-Colt totaled 10 receptions on 16 targets over the previous two. “I feel like over the last two or three weeks here, he’s really starting to, ‘OK, I got it, I understand what’s going on. I know what Drew’s (Brees) looking for,” assistant head coach/tights ends Dan Campbell told Teope.
  • Friday was an eventful day for backup quarterbacks in San Francisco: A contract restructuring is a possibility for Colin Kaepernick, as is a return to the starting lineup in Week 6. Meanwhile, some 49ers want Christian Ponder to take Blaine Gabbert‘s job.

Extra Points: Rice, Saints, Broncos, Bills

If free agent running back Ray Rice is going to return to the NFL, it could be now or never, opines Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Several teams are dealing with injuries in the backfield, and that could open the door for Rice to sign somewhere and see his first action since 2013. Rice has been out of the league since the Ravens released him in September 2014, which came after video of him knocking out his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator surfaced. The league also suspended Rice, but he won an appeal that lifted the ban in November 2014. Teams have still stayed away from Rice, who has seemingly cleaned up his act off the field over the past couple years. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this month of a “growing sense” that the 29-year-old would get another chance, and Florio observes that it could come soon.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Saints aren’t thrilled with big-money tight end Coby Fleener‘s early season production, writes Christopher Dabe of NOLA.com. Quarterback Drew Brees has targeted Fleener 12 times in two games, but the former Colt has caught just three passes for 35 yards. “I think there’s been moments and yet it hasn’t been as consistent as we’d like yet,” head coach Sean Payton said Monday. Fleener, 27, combined for 183 receptions and 17 touchdowns over his first four seasons, leading the Saints to sign him to a five-year, $36MM deal in free agency.
  • Broncos right tackle Donald Stephenson suffered a calf injury that should keep him out 2-3 weeks, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Fortunately for Denver, he did not suffer a tear, as some initially feared.
  • The Bills worked out a pair of free agents, tight end E.J. Bibbs and offensive tackle Laurence Gibson, on Monday, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN. Of the two, only Bibbs has NFL experience. He signed with the Browns last year as an undrafted free agent from Iowa State and appeared in seven games as a rookie, catching one pass.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

South Notes: Fleener, Weddle, Amukamara

The Colts chose to re-sign Dwayne Allen over fellow tight end Coby Fleener, and the latter went on to sign a five-year, $36MM deal with the Saints. And according to Fleener, it doesn’t sound Indianapolis put up too much of a fight to keep him. “The Colts’ lack of interest and the Saints’ interest made going to New Orleans an easy choice,” Fleener told Mike Wells of ESPN.com.

Here are a few more notes from the South divisions…

  • Another former Colt, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, says the club never made him a free agent offer, according to Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times (Twitter link). That seems to conflict from a report earlier today that indicated Indianapolis offered Freeman the same contract he ultimately signed with the Bears, but the dispute could stem from the notion that Freeman wasn’t offered a deal during free agency — this afternoon’s report said the Colts gave Freeman their proposal prior to March 9.
  • The Buccaneers are not among the contenders for free agent safety Eric Weddle, tweets Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. Weddle is reportedly weighing offers from four teams, thought to be the Ravens, Steelers, Cowboys, and Raiders.
  • Cornerback Prince Amukamara had other free agent trips planned, but he never got around to taking them after finding that he liked what the Jaguars were offering, Amukamara explained to reporters, including John Oehser of Jaguars.com. Amukamara agreed to a one-year deal with Jacksonville.