It’s unclear why the Saints determined that Fleener’s injury was significant enough to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.
Fleener, 29, recently told NOLA.com’s Josh Katzenstein that he had suffered four football-related concussions in his life, making this latest one his fifth. He also recently joined the athlete advisory board of SyncThink, a neurotechnology company that is pioneering the use of eye tracking as a way to objectively measure key impairments related to brain injury of athletes on the sidelines in real time.
Fleener had 22 receptions for 295 yards and two touchdowns this year. He has been the Saints’ top pass-catching tight end since he signed a five-year, $36 million contract in free agency last year, but he hasn’t had nearly the level of production that he and the Saints were hoping for. A second-round draft pick out of Stanford in 2012, Fleener spent his first four years with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Saints will likely now lean more on veteran tight ends Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui, who have primarily been used as blocking tight ends but have also shown enough versatility to work their way into the passing game. New Orleans also promoted second-year tight end Garrett Griffin from the practice squad to the active roster Saturday.
Fleener didn’t leave last Sunday’s game immediately after he absorbed a big hit from Rams safety Blake Countess that drew both an unnecessary roughness penalty and a fine, but he left the game soon after when tight ends coach Dan Campbell realized Fleener was having a vision issue. Coach Sean Payton explained this week that the Saints have a “strict” protocol when it comes to evaluating possible concussions and they are aggressive about taking players out of the game when there is any doubt. But that in this case he said Fleener didn’t show any signs or symptoms of a concussion immediately after the hit.
“The process took place in a good way,” Payton said.
The Saints also waived second-year cornerback De’Vante Harris, who has appeared in 21 games with them over the past two years as a backup and special teamer after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M. Harris started his first career game last week because of injuries at the position but struggled and was eventually pulled from the lineup. The Saints promoted undrafted rookie cornerback Arthur Maulet from the practice squad to the active roster to take Harris’ place.