Free Agency is always full of surprises, shots in the dark, and twists and turns. When a team like the New Orleans Saints is involved,with such precious little cap space to play with in the supermarket sweep of unnattached talent, one would figure the plan to be straightforward: keep hold of as many of your own free agents as possible while trying to keep the books balanced with an eye on the future. Then again, this is March, a time for madness, and the Saints certainly got things off with a bang as free agency officially began Tuesday by setting up a visit with Jairus Byrd, widely considered this season's top free agent at the Safety position.
Jairus Byrd in action with Buffalo
With Malcolm Jenkins on his way to Philadelphia, and Roman Harper released last month, the Saints have quite the need to find a partner for Kenny Vaccaro. Byrd would be an ideal puzzle piece, but his price tag could be a major hurdle for New Orleans. The team only recently wiggled its way under the salary cap and has to face up to a potential long-term negotiating battle with franchised Tight End Jimmy Graham. The Saints have only about $2 million to play with as of now, and Byrd is said to be seeking in the neighborhood of $9 million annually.
The team could explore the possibility of restructuring certain players' contracts to expand that cap space. Drew Brees and Marques Colston are players who could shuffle money around in their deals to help accomodate a potential deal for Byrd. Both Brees and Colston are quintessential team players who would seem likely to make such a concession as the addition of a player like Byrd would only enhance the team's chances of adding another Super Bowl title to it's trophy case. There could also still be further departures to create more space. The team has already released the likes of Harper, Will Smith, Lance Moore and Jabari Greer, with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas also potential cap casualties.
With Graham's situation in mind and other key players out of contract that the team would like to retain, most had New Orleans pencilled in as a quiet player in this season's market. However, the team is in "win now" mode and adding a player like Jairus Byrd can help transform a team from good to great, especially given the marked improvement the Saints defense made last season under the direction of Rob Ryan. Byrd's presence would only elevate that unit's potential heading in to year 2 of Ryan's 3-4 scheme.
Byrd's visit to New Orleans may ultimately turn out to be much ado about nothing. However, if there is any way that the Saints can crunch the numbers and make a deal happen, they may end up with one of the prizes of this season's free agent extravaganza. Byrd has tallied 22 interceptions in his 5 year career as a Buffalo Bill, and is a complete Safety by every stretch of the imagination. Good in run support as well, the former Oregon Duck has also forced 11 fumbles in his career, demonstrating his physicality and tenacity. With offense and points often the first thing associated with the Saints, the team had made a committment to continue improving on defense, underlined by the appointment of Ryan last offseason and the transformation to the 3-4.
If the New Orleans Saints do end up landing Jairus Byrd, it will surely come as one of the bigger shocks on this year's open market. That being said, free agency seemingly never tends to disappoint. Several teams, including the Buffalo Bills, will be in the bidding line for Byrd. The fact that the Crescent City is his first trip should give Saints fans reason to be excited, while keeping in mind that this is, after all, crazy time as far as Football is concerned. With day 1 of free agency not yet in the books, one can only imagine how much more twists and turns await in the near future.