Veteran NFL receiver Hakeem Nicks decided this offseason that persistently lobbying New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton for a job gave him the best chance at salvaging his career.
The 28-year-old Nicks, who participated in his first practice of Saints training camp on Friday, is coming off several seasons in which his production dipped far below the standard he set early in his career with the New York Giants. But Nicks sounds confident that the prolific offense designed by Payton, and executed by quarterback Drew Brees, provides the perfect platform for his resurgence.
“If you look at the offenses I was in when I had most of my production throughout my career, I felt like this offense fit my skill set the best,” Nicks said. “And who else to do it with than coach Sean Payton. He’s a brainiac when it comes to offenses, and I would love to play for him.”
Nicks, who worked out for the Saints this offseason, is taking a spot on the 90-man preseason roster that opened up when New Orleans placed Vincent Brown on injured reserve. In recent months, Nicks said he’d been sending Payton texts almost weekly in an effort to persuade the coach to give him a chance. Sometimes, those texts said something like, “Let’s Hunt.” Other times, they included video of Nicks training.
“He’s obviously an experienced receiver. He’s in good shape. And he was kind of on a short list if we had a” roster opening, Payton said of Nicks. “Plus, he wouldn’t stop texting me.”
Nicks posted 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011 with the Giants under then-offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, but he has been far less productive since and at this point is far from being guaranteed a regular-season roster spot.
“I know the situation,” Nicks said. “I’m a man and I know what I’ve got to do.”
Two seasons ago, Nicks left New York for Indianapolis, joining Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. But Nicks wound up having one of the least productive seasons of his career, catching 38 passes for 405 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games. He then went to Tennessee, but said he had a preseason knee injury that he kept quiet about and rejoined the Giants in midseason, finishing 2015 with seven catches for 54 yards.
Payton said Hicks’ dip in production could have resulted from a variety of factors, including the systems in which he played.
“Each situation’s different … but I can’t speak specifically to his (snaps) or reasons why maybe there were certain attempts thrown his way,” Payton said. “It’s an opportunity for him to come in and kind of find his role, if you will, a little bit – work for a role within this system, which is a little different than maybe other places he’s been.”
Nicks said his recent dip in production motivated him to ramp up his study of pro football.
“I was learning the business,” Nicks said. “I hadn’t had much success since I’d been with coach Gilbride. Being younger, you think you can just go fit in anywhere, any offense. I was oblivious. … So as I got older and started talking to some older guys that had been in the league, you know, you’ve got to fit your skill set. So I started studying some offenses and I feel like this is the best fit.”
Nicks also said he has continued to focus on recovering from last year’s knee injury since leaving the Giants a second time.
“I’ve spent my whole offseason from January up until now, rehabbing and training. So I put a lot of work into it,” Nicks said. “The opportunity came and I’m ready for it.”
Rookie receiver Michael Thomas drew high praise from teammates and coaches after making a lunging, off-balance, one-handed catch of a long Luke McCown pass along the left sideline during 11-on-11 drills. Thomas, a former Ohio State standout drafted in the second round last spring, corralled the ball with his left hand while tumbling into the end zone. “That was really an amazing play,” Payton said. … The Saints have signed offensive lineman John Fullington, who plays center and guard. He replaces lineman Tony Carter, who was waived with an unspecified injury.