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2019 NFL Free Agency

THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD: Free Agent WR Adam Humphries Could Be the Perfect Complement for the Saints Offense

“The Little Engine That Could”. Most of us remember that classic American fairytale (“I think I can, I think I can”) from way back when we were kids, which was the story originally written in the 1930’s about a fictional railroad-train engine that teaches children the values of optimism and hard work.

And it’s those same values taught in that story, which make that same term an appropriate nickname for the young man who potentially could be the perfect complement to the Saints offense if he were to be signed by the team when 2019 NFL Free Agency starts next week: Tampa Bay Buccaneers unrestricted free agent and slot receiver Adam Humphries.

Humphries has earned that nickname among Buccaneers fans who admire the 4th year undrafted veteran’s determination and noted work ethic that has made him one of their franchise’s most beloved players. As noted by Pewter Report beat writer Mark Cook: Humphries’ path and story to the NFL should be posted and shared with every youth and high school player in the country.

Cook says that Humphries is the epitomé of hard work, perseverance and following one’s dream; and he has done nothing but consistently produce since he signed with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent following the conclusion of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Photo courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

The 5-foot-11, 194 pound Humphries — who turns 26 in June — is now also an unrestricted free agent; and the Saints are among a handful of NFL teams that reportedly have major interest in signing the blossoming young star, who last season set career highs in receptions (71), yards (816) and touchdowns (5). 

Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, Humphries has parlayed those impressive numbers into suddenly now making himself one of the more attractive players for offensive-needy teams in next week’s free agent market, due to his phenomenal dual-role capabilities as a speedy target at the “slot” WR position as well being a legitimate scoring threat when he’s used as a punt returner.

Tampa originally had intended to extend Humphries last season to a long-term deal, but it was reported that he was seeking anywhere from $8 to 10 million per season; which prompted Bucs management at that time to put any future talks on hold until this current Off-Season. But that $8 to 10 million dollar figure is actually right around the same number of the current market value in what is considered a fairly weak group of wide receivers in this year’s 2019 Free Agency Class .

For the Saints, it simply will come down to a matter of whether or not they’re willing to put out that much; given that they currently only have a total of $10.8 million to spend on free agents under the salary cap.

Obviously they could free up some additional money by restructuring the existing contracts of a few players, but spending that much on Humphries is something that very seems plausible for the Black and Gold; given the fact that Humphries could potentially be the perfect complement so to speak, to #1 WR Michael Thomas within the Saints offensive scheme.

Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Considering Humprhries was able to excel last year in spite of a Bucs offense that often struggled at times because of their unsettled quarterback situation, you’d have to imagine that he would absolutely flourish with Drew Brees as his QB in New Orleans.

Humphries has demonstrated a fearlessness to go across the middle of the field, and he can also dominate defensive backs from the slot by shredding zone coverages down the field.  

But what defenders often fail to realize is just how fast he is; and while his notable speed (4.43 seconds was his fastest 40-yard dash time coming out of college) shouldn’t come as a surprise to hardly any one at this point, Humphries has continually displayed elite-caliber receiving and route-running skills over the past few seasons that many teams will covet, beginning next Wednesday.

Humphries typically likes to run a lot of high percentage routes from the slot position that have made him one of the more effective players in that specific role, League-wide. Having Humphries man the slot presumably would not only allow Thomas to get more open looks; but could prove to be even more valuable because of his dynamic YAC (yards-after-the catch) ability that wouldn’t require long-distance throws from the now 40-year old Brees.

Humphries would provide Brees with the option to get the ball out quickly; and his posted catch rate of over 72 percent in each of the past two seasons, is a testament to that fact. It’s something the Saints have clearly lacked at the slot WR / #3 WR spot since the departure of Willie Snead (now with the Baltimore Ravens), and before him when the role was held by then WR Lance Moore (who is now retired). 

Additionally, the Saints could use him on special teams, where his special, unique blend of speed and talent clearly shine through.

Humphries, a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, has seen his production increase each year since he first joined the Bucs as an undrafted free agent following a successful tryout in the team’s 2015 rookie mini-camp. 

Prior to signing with Tampa, Humphries had played all 4 seasons at Clemson University; from 2011 to 2014, where he was offered a scholarship by current National Championship-winning head coach Dabo Swinney after graduating from Dorman High School in suburban Roebuck, South Carolina, a suburb of Spartanburg.

Source: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images North America

In 4 college seasons, Humphries played in a total of 53 games (with 27 starts in his final two seasons) and caught 127 passes for 1,027 yards and 3 TD’s before going undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft. He found a home in Tampa Bay as the 5th and final receiver on their roster as a rookie, eventually working his way into the starting lineup by his 2nd NFL season. 

Humphries had a fairly uneventful rookie season in 2015, catching only 27 passes for 260 yards and a score while also returning kicks and punts under then-Bucs head coach Lovie Smith.

But Smith was fired after the 2015 Season, and it was under then-new head coach Dirk Koetter in the 2016 Season where Humphries began to eventually blossom into the $8 million per season player that he is now. In the 2016 season, Humphries caught 55 passes for 622 yards and 2 TD’s. and began to firmly establish himself as a legitimate receiving threat League-wide.

Then, by his 3rd NFL season in 2017, Humphries was putting up numbers that further established his his reputation as one of the League’s best slot WR’s, as he finished with 61 catches for 631 yards and a touchdown.

Source: Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America

In his 4 year NFL career, Humphries has appeared in 60 games (with 17 starts, most of which came last year) and has caught 219 receptions (on a total of 311 targets), for 2,329 yards and 9 TD’s while averaging 10.6 yards per catch.

The biggest question for Saints team brass at this point with the start of Free Agency now just 5 more days away, simply comes down to how much this would cost them in the end.

As we noted above: Humphries’ established market value is $8 to $10-plus million; and that might seem to be a bit much for a slot receiver who in spite of his obvious talent, might end up being a bit too expensive for New Orleans’ tastes, and more importantly their budget under the salary cap.

The Saints might still willing to do that anyway (sign Humphries) if the reports are true that they are proactively seeking out his services.

(Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But also remember that this year’s WR class in next month’s 2019 Draft is fairly deep this year; and one can easily envision a scenario where the Saints take a player with a similar skill-set, such as University of Massachusetts All-American WR Andy Isabella.

Some would argue that the Saints would be better off by targeting a big-bodied wide receiver to play on the outside boundary on the side opposite of where Michael Thomas normally lines up.

While that might actually be true, the Saints also need to find a pass catcher that can run high-percentage routes, has reliable hands, and has demonstrated an unwavering capability to make plays after the catch.

That description above perfectly fits the young man nicknamed “The Little Engine That Could” — and we’ll see if he ends up in the Black and Gold, when NFL Free Agency gets underway in 5 more days from now….

 

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Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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