There is no such thing as a perfect world. Likewise, in professional football, there is hardly such a thing as a perfect salary cap situation these days, with most teams way over, slightly over, or dangerously close to being over the cap. The New Orleans Saints are one of the teams that find themselves over this threshold. With a handful of key players set to enter free agency, three Saints in particular stand out as pieces the team would ideally love to bring back, the imperfect world of salary cap purgatory notwithstanding.
- Jimmy Graham - TE - The obvious no-brainer here. Graham is coming off another monster season in New orleans' machine of an offense. Barring something completely unforeseen, Graham will be suited up in Black and Gold once again in 2014. The only question is, under what terms? Will Graham and the Saints be able to strike an agreement on a long term deal or will he be hit with the Franchise tag? If he is tagged, will he be tagged as a Tight End or a Wide Receiver? With over $4 million separating the difference between the TE and WR tags, Graham and his camp will obviously lobby for him to be tagged as a wideout, given his extensive time operating almost 70% of his snaps in a receiver's position. Graham has recently taken the high road, saying that his position is ultimately for the team to decide, and he will do whatever is asked of him, but there is no secret that he desires the financial and aesthetical security a long term deal provides. Graham certainly has let his play do the talking and even if the Franchise tag is the route taken, there is little doubt that keeping Jimmy Graham in a Saints uniform for many years to come is priority #1 for New Orleans brass in this free agent class.
Saints TE Jimmy Graham
- Brian de la Puente - C - A consensus top 3 available free agent at his position, the former undrafted free agent is set to hit the market coming off a strong finish to the 2013 season in which he helped anchor the middle of the Saints' offensive line to another playoff berth. De la Puente has plenty of experience making the line calls for Drew Brees and the Saints' potent offense, and with Right Tackle Zach Strief also set to hit the market, the Saints would ideally like to keep at least one of the two. De la Puente's high level of play to conclude the 2013 season may have priced himself out of a return to the cap strapped Saints, but if reasonable terms can be agreed, he is a guy the team would put right near the top of their 'Retain' wishlist just under Jimmy Graham. The Saints have a strong record of drafting and developing offensive linemen in the latter rounds of the draft, such as Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod, Jahri Evans and Strief in recent history. Now 30, Strief could be less likely to accept a team-friendly deal to stay with the Saints, which would make keeping de la Puente somewhat more realistic. The team could then look to groom yet another unheralded lineman such as Bryce Harris to fill Strief's spot at RT.
- Parys Haralson - LB- Acquired from the 49ers in an August trade, Haralson made a significant contribution to Rob Ryan's defense as a rotational player at Linebacker. An experienced commodity with an injury history, Haralson should not cost too much to keep in New Orleans, and proved to be great value as a run stopper throughout 2013. With Victor Butler coming off a serious injury of his own, the team could look to keep Haralson as both insurance and depth with the likelihood of adding to their stable of linebackers in the draft. Haralson was a consistent performer and after suffering a chest injury during the team's wildcard victory over the Eagles, his absence was felt in the team's next game, a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Saints look to take yet another step forward in year 2 of Ryan's 3-4 scheme, and if brought back, Haralson will surely have a part to play.
Every team wants to keep the gang together and not risk losing any of their key contributors. However, the delicate world of NFL salary cap balancing acts makes it so difficult to do such, meaning the next few weeks become so crucial in the structuring of 2014 rosters across the league. The aforementioned 3 players are important to New Orleans' success, and if the numbers can be crunched, all 3 would be more than welcomed back to make another run at a championship in 2014.