Brian Allee-Walsh

Dez Bryant should be no passing fancy for Super Bowl-minded New Orleans Saints

Thirty years ago, the New Orleans Saints selected University of Pittsburgh running back Craig "Ironhead'' Heyward in the first round of the 1988 NFL draft. At age 21, he was built like a bull, full of bull(...) and overtly bullish about his ability.

Oh yes, Heyward also was trouble waiting to happen.

Heyward died May 27, 2006, at the age of 39 after a colorful, hit-and-miss 11-year career with five NFL teams.

His best years came in Atlanta where he produced his only 1,000-yard season (1995) and scored 19 touchdowns in three seasons (1994-'96).

Heyward brought baggage with him to New Orleans, most notably weight and behavioral problems that followed him from Pitt. That said, Heyward's physical prowess -- he was a nightmare to tackle at 325-plus pounds and possessed nimble feet and deceptive speed -- made him an attractive pick at No. 24.

In other words, the potential rewards far outweighed the risks, according to then-Saints GM Jim Finks, who once acknowledged Heyward's weight issues this way: "Once a fat man, always a fat man.''

Finks also admitted that while Heyward had no Saintly virtues to speak of, Ironhead ultimately would see the light and be absorbed by a mature roster and locker room in New Orleans and not become a problem child for management and Coach Jim Mora.

After five mostly underwhelming seasons in New Orleans, Heyward moved on, eventually finding himself and coming of age as a man and father before his tragic death after a lengthy bout with bone and brain cancer.

I bring up Heyward for this reason: The Saints reportedly are a potential landing spot for veteran free agent wide receiver Dez Bryant, whose hefty price tag ($12.5 million base salary and cap hit of $16.5 million) made him expendable in Dallas after eight mostly productive seasons.

Even Jerry Jones couldn't justify Bryant's existence in Big D or to restructure the player's contract, in part because his act had gotten old.

Once a difference maker for the Cowboys, Bryant no longer commands top dollar as a No. 1 receiver. He has spurned a multi-year offer from Baltimore with designs of signing a more lucrative deal down the road after proving himself all over again.

In some ways, I could see Bryant, now 29 and a few steps slower than when he first entered the NFL as the 24th overall pick from Oklahoma State in 2010, as a complementary receiver in New Orleans to Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr. and, if healthy, newcomer Cameron Meredith — provided Bryant wouldn't become a distraction or a disruptive influence.

Then again, a leopard doesn't change his spots.

Bryant is a drama king who seems to have attracted more attention off the field than on it the past few seasons, and the Saints don't need that kind of headache in their all-out pursuit of Super Bowl LIII.

Let Bryant go to Green Bay or a team in the NFC East where he can twice play against the Cowboys each season.

If indeed the reports are true, the Saints should pass on Dez Bryant.

He's a declining football diva looking for a home.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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