NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For tight end Coby Fleener, leaving Indianapolis and longtime teammate Andrew Luck to join a 37-year-old quarterback and a team coming off two straight losing seasons still represents a sound career decision.
Fleener's new QB is record-setter Drew Brees and his new team is the New Orleans Saints, who've consistently fielded one of the NFL's top offenses throughout the past decade.
The 27-year-old Fleener said several teams showed interest in acquiring him as a free agent, "but once the Saints popped into it, and obviously I couldn't tell them this (during negotiations), but obviously that was really exciting for me," Fleener said during a conference call hosted by the Saints on Friday. "The way they use the tight end, having an outstanding quarterback in Drew Brees, to me, it's a no-brainer."
Hours after free agency began on Wednesday, New Orleans and Fleener agreed on a five-year contract worth about $36 million, meaning Fleener and Luck would be on different teams for the first time since before they began playing together in college at Stanford in 2009.
"It will be a new experience and I think the last time I played with a different quarterback was at Stanford before Andrew got there, but I would say that Drew has been so successful and such a good player for so long that I don't think it will be a huge challenge," said Fleener, who is entering his fifth NFL season. "There will be a little bit of a learning curve. It's a new offense for me although similar concepts to what I have learned in the past and I think I have to just get used to Drew's throwing motion a little bit. Seeing the ball come out of his hand is probably different than seeing the ball come out of Andrew's hand ... but I don't think it will be a huge hurdle to overcome."
For New Orleans, the signing of Fleener could fill the void left by free agent tight end Ben Watson's departure for Baltimore.
Watson was New Orleans' top receiving tight end last season, catching 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns, which set or matched his career highs in all three categories.
But Watson is 35 years old and entering his 13th NFL season, while the 6-foot-6 Fleener is eight years younger and demonstrated considerable potential two seasons ago, when Luck was healthy. That season, Fleener caught 51 passes for 774 yards and eight TDs.
He anticipates having similar success with Brees in coach Sean Payton's offense, which averaged 403.8 yards in 2015, ranking second in the NFL, despite New Orleans' decision to trade star tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle during the previous offseason.
"All of that is obviously very promising," Fleener said. "I'm excited to get downfield and stretch the field as best I can."
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Posted on Mon, March 14, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer