When the New Orleans Saints re-signed former undrafted free agent and 6th year veteran tight end Josh Hill to a 3-year, $8.85 million contract on New Year’s Eve, the decision made by the organization was greeted with mixed results by many of the team’s fans.
As originally reported by Field Yates of ESPN: the deal will keep him in New Orleans through the 2021 Season. However, though Hill is considered by most to be a slightly-above average blocker and receiver, he has yet to produce any numbers or achieve any notable success that would lead one to believe that he could be viewed as one of the better players in the League at his position.
As a matter of fact: in his entire 6 year career since he first signed with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 NFL Draft out of Idaho State University, the 28-year old Blackfoot, Idaho native has as many total receiving yards as some of the top players at the position League-wide put up in one whole entire season.
As noted by New Orleans Times-Picayune / NOLA.com beat writer Luke Johnson: Hill made the team largely because of his ability to excel on special teams. And while he has never been the team’s top receiving option and likely never will be, Hill’s role has increased gradually since his time spent in NOLA.
“I’ve just built trust,” Hill told Johnson in an exclusive one-on-one interview. “I’ve definitely come a long way the last six seasons.”
But now Hill will be pressed with the task of starting at tight end tomorrow afternoon when the Saints face their long-time rivals the Los Angeles Rams, in the 2019 NFC Championship Game; since 38-year old starting tight end and 15th year veteran Benjamin Watson is expected to miss the contest with a bout of appendicitis.
And the question now being asked by some nervous Who Dats as tomorrow’s big game approaches is: can Josh Hill finally take that “next step” in his career, and come up with a stellar performance in Watson’s absence in such a critically important situation with the team just one win away from advancing to Super Bowl LIII (53) in Atlanta?
Saints assistant head coach and tight ends coach Dan Campbell believes that Hill is more than up to the task.
“His job description every week, it’s like we give him the details to the game plan, and it could be anything, and he’s ready for that,” Campbell told Johnson. “And he’s done a hell of a job.”
Ironically, Hill’s best season EVER was the recently-completed 2018 NFL Season in the year that just passed; as he finished with 16 catches for 185 yards and one touchdown.
In his 6-year NFL career, Hill has played in a grand total of 87 games with 43 starts; and has caught a total of 83 passes for 799 yards with 11 touchdowns, for an 11.6 yards per catch average.
It probably goes without saying that Hill ISN’T the type of player that you’d be comparing to Travis Kelce (Chiefs), Zach Ertz (Philadelphia), Rob Gronkowski (Patriots), or any other of the “elite-caliber” TE’s currently in the NFL.
Naturally the question that most people will then ask simply is: WHY have the Saints kept Hill around so long?
The answer quite frankly is that Hill as Campbell alluded to, just does whatever is asked of him and does it well enough to merit being kept on the roster.
His contributions on special teams are nearly invaluable, and his blocking ability is top-notch.
And while he might not ever make you think of a Tony Gonzales or an Antonio Gates, he can make the occasional “big play” whenever he’s called upon.
Clearly with the Saints about to lose Watson to retirement when this season finally ends (either tomorrow or in the Super Bowl in 2 more weeks from now), it left Hill as the only veteran tight end still currently on the roster who is capable of replacing Watson’s production.
That more than anything is what likely prompted the organization to offer him a new deal. 3rd string TE Dan Arnold has struggled at tomes with making the adjustment from wide receiver to tight end, and 4th string TE Garrett Griffin is only on the roster as an emergency option.
Even though Hill has always been relegated to 2nd string behind previous Saints starting tight ends Jimmy Graham, Coby Fleener and Watson, his years of experience and the ability to share that knowledge with the younger players at the position, make him an indelible part (and a beneficial resource) of the team.
However, that shouldn’t and won’t stop or prevent the Saints from exploring their options in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft at Nashville, Tennessee in April; especially when a player such as University of Alabama tight end Irv Smith, Jr. could be available to New Orleans with the 64th overall and final selection in Round #2.
But for the time being, their focus will be on Hill replacing Watson in tomorrow’s contest.
Watson was listed as “questionable” on the team’s final injury report released late yesterday, in the event that somehow he could recover from his illness in time and possibly suit up for tomorrow’s critically important showdown at the Superdome.
That would seem pretty unlikely at the moment, though it’s evident based on the comments by Dan Campbell that the team fully expects that Hill will be capable of doing a good job in Watson’s place.
And now it’s up to Hill to make his mark, and the team and its devoted and passionate fans will be hoping that the 6-foot-5, 250 pounder can rise to the occasion if need be.
Can Josh Hill take the “next step” of his career in tomorrow’s NFC Championship Game and help the Black and Gold reach the Super Bowl?
The Saints organization and the Who Dat Nation is about to find out, soon enough….