We all know the famous old saying, and we all know that it's true...There's no place like home. Young or old, there really is nothing like the sound of Mama or Daddy's voice calling you back to where your roots sink in to the earthy soil that helped form the foundation of your life's beginnings. There comes the point in time when we may be faced with the opportunity to make our way back to this hallowed place. Do we want to go home? Is it the right time? Is it, after all, the right thing to do?
Next month, as the NFL's free agency extravaganza kicks off, and many football players, stars and role players alike, will be changing teams. Some will reel in the big bucks, others will simply be looking for the best place to compete for a job and stick to a roster. It can be easy as counting the zeros on the contract offer, the length of years, or what the Mrs. wants to do. For other players, it can be a difficult process as the life span and job security of the average NFL player is not great. It needs to be the right decision. There has to be a fit. When it gets down to splitting hairs over a decision, one factor that can always weigh in greatly, especially in these cases, is the chance to return home. Let's take a look at 5 2014 Unrestricted Free Agents who could return to the Pelican State if that fit exists.
Steelers Safety Ryan Clark is set to hit the market
- Ryan Clark - Safety- A native of Marrero, La, Clark grew up a stone's throw across the Mississippi from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome , prepping at Archbishop Shaw High School and playing collegiately at LSU. Clark, 34, just wrapped up his 12th year of NFL service, 8 of which have come in Pittsburgh. Clark's immediate future in the Steel City seems somewhat uncertain as he heads for free agency. He has floated the idea of retiring should the Steelers not offer him a new deal but has recently stated his desire to continue his career. A cozy T.V. gig undoubtedly awaits the media savvy Clark whenever life after Football does arrive, but with Clark still playing at a reasonably high level even in the latter stages of his career, it seems likely that he will indeed play on at least one more season, though it could well be in a new city. Enter New Orleans. The Saints could lose both Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper this offseason. Jenkins is headed for unrestricted free agency, while Harper is a possible cap casualty for the Saints. With Kenny Vaccaro entering his 2nd season, the cash strapped Saints may not be able to offer Jenkins the long term contract which he will be in pursuit of, and Clark could emerge as a cheaper, short term solution to partner Vaccaro in the defensive backfield. Capable of playing both safety spots, Vaccaro could slot in at Strong safety leaving Clark to play the Free Safety position. Assuming Pittsburgh decides to move on, if there is one place the 2 time Super Bowl Champion could opt to sign a team friendly deal, for Clark, that place could be New Orleans.
- Corey Webster - Cornerback- A native son of Vacherie, La, located in the football rich area of the state known as the River Parishes, Webster recently had his contract with the New York Giants voided after missing all but four games in 2013. Webster is going on 32 and is not playing at or near the level he was as a 2 time Super Bowl winner in New York, but with the Saints likely in need of additional help at the Corner spots, Webster could be a cheap, short term stopgap option. An owner of 10 career interceptions, Webster could fill a need if the Saints decide to release injured duo Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson. Both players are recovering from serious knee injuries and could be cap casualties due to their salaries. The Saints have shown faith in veteran free agent corners in the past, such as Aaron Glenn, Mike McKenzie, Leigh Torrence and Chris McAllister to act as viable insurance policies while also bringing a veteran presence to the field and locker room. Webster's days of signing multiyear deals are at an end, so the chance to play on and prove there is still fuel in the tank could match him with New Orleans, should the Saints look in his direction.
- Jacoby Jones - WR- A New Orleans native, Jones followed up his Super Bowl season in Baltimore with a bit of a clunker. His season started on the wrong foot, almost literally, when he suffered a knee injury in week 1 at Denver when a teammate rolled up on his leg. Jones has never quite put it together as a complete wideout, but is still a high end return man and the Saints could use a shot in the arm in the return game. The days of Tyrone Hughes electrifying the Dome with his exciting returns have become a long distant memory for Saints fans, with the likes of Jamal Jones, Courtney Roby, Devery Henderson, and Darren Sproles plugging away as kick returners over the years for New Orleans, and if Jones comes at the right price, he could be an intriguing option for the Saints. The chance to enhance his skills as a receiver catching passes from Drew Brees could be another way of enticing Jones to come home, as the soon to be 30 year old hits the market next month.
- Brandon LaFell - WR - LaFell is a Houston native, but played his college ball at LSU and embraced the Louisiana culture from the day he arrived in Baton Rouge. Having spent the first 4 years of his career at division rivals Carolina, LaFell hits the open market coming off career highs of 49 receptions and 5 touchdowns. Drops have always been an issue for LaFell, but when he does reel in the catch, there is no doubting his play making abilities. It seems that the only way he could return to the Panthers is by accepting a short term deal to further prove his value to the team. If that is the case and New Orleans is interested, LaFell could be steered back to Sportsman's Paradise with a similar offer and the chance to operate in the Payton/Brees pass happy offense. LaFell is a very good blocker on the perimeter as well, which could further endear him as an option for the Saints as they examine all ways to improve their running game.
- Tracy Porter - Cornerback - Last but not least, we look at Tracy Porter, one of many Super Bowl XLIV heroes amongst Saints fans. No Who Dat will ever forget the ecstacy brought on by Porter's pick six of Peyton Manning in the 4th quarter of that game, sealing the deal and giving the Saints their first taste of Super Bowl glory. Unfortunately, there is also the image of Porter being dusted off by Marshawn Lynch on one of his signature Beast Mode runs, but those kind of plays have proven to be an outlier for Porter. The Port Allen native will enter the market coming off a season in which he appeared in all 16 games while notching career highs in tackles and sacks for the Oakland Raiders. Porter had a nice bounce back season in Oakland after an injury riddled 2012 campaign in Denver. There were rumors of the Saints kicking around the idea of bringing Porter back last offseason, but the team instead reeled in one of the best signings of 2013 in Keenan Lewis. With the aforementioned Greer and Robinson facing the likelihood of being released, Porter could yet again emerge as an option for the Saints. Chances are the Raiders will look to retain Porter after he turned in a solid performance in 2013. Time will tell what his market value is, but the chance to return to a city where he is still loved could pay dividends if the Saints are one of multiple teams vying for his services.
Other notable free agents with Louisiana connections such as Jason Hatcher, Tyson Jackson and Charles Tillman, among others are set to hit the market. However most of these players will likely either not fall in the Saints desired price range or simply aren't proper scheme fits. The talent rich area has produced so many athletic thoroughbreds over the years that it really isn't surprising to research a player's background and find he has roots in the Bayou State. With the Saints cap situation so delicate, free agency will be all about value for New Orleans, and if certain players looking for jobs here that familiar voice calling out to them, the Crescent City could be more than just a soft landing spot.