To say that the last 4-6 weeks within the confines of 5800 Airline Drive have been busy would be a gross understatement. Fact is, the New Orleans Saints have been as active as any other franchise in the NFL during the free agency period, with several ins and outs, pleasant surprises and emotional goodbyes as the team prepares to lay the foundation for another postseason run. Let's take a look at what the Saints have done thus far.Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis has been a busy man this offseason.
- Jairus Byrd - S
- Champ Bailey - CB
- Erik Lorig - FB
- Marcus Ball - S
- Kenyon Coleman - DE - Expected to retire
- Darren Sproles - RB - Traded to Eagles
- Malcolm Jenkins - DB - Signed with Eagles
- Roman Harper - S - Released, signed with Panthers
- Lance Moore - WR - Released, signed with Steelers
- Jed Collins - FB - Untendered RFA, signed with Lions
- Charles Brown - OL - Signed with Giants
- Brian de la Puente - C - Signed with Bears
- Tom Johnson - DE - Untendered Signed with Vikings
- Luke McCown - QB
- Zach Strief - OL
- Parys Haralson - LB
- Keyunta Dawson - LB
- Ramon Humber - LB
- Joe Morgan - WR
- Shayne Graham - K
- Rafael Bush - S
- Jimmy Graham - TE - non-exclusive franchise tag (unsigned)
- Robert Meachem - WR - unsigned free agent
- Will Herring - LB - unsigned free agent
- Jonathan Vilma - LB - Released, unsigned free agent
- Will Smith - DE- Released, unsigned free agent
- Jabari Greer - CB - Released, unsigned free agent
- Jordan Pugh - S - unsigned free agent
New Orleans has managed to compensate the losses of two of it's veteran Safeties by bringing in former Bills star Jairus Byrd and agreeing to terms with former Toronto Argonaut standout Marcus Ball. In addition, the Saints have brought in future Hall of Famer and twelve time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey on a two-year deal. These moves help reinforce a secondary which improved markedly under first-year Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan.
The Saints brought back Luke McCown to compete for the backup QB job with rising youngster Ryan Griffin, while managing to retain key depth at the Linebacker spots by re-signing Parys Haralson, Ramon Humber and Keyunta Dawson. Perhaps the two biggest retentions from last season are Zach Strief and Rafael Bush. Bush had signed an offer sheet with the Atlanta Falcons which the Saints decided to match, while Strief was able to hammer out a return to New Orleans where he will continue to serve as the team's Right Tackle.
In order to help create cap space and fund some of these moves, long-serving veterans such as Greer, Moore, Harper and Vilma were let go. Keenan Lewis and Pierre Thomas also re-worked their respective deals which helped create some additional immediate cap flexibility. The Saints also agreed to send scatback Darren Sproles to the Eagles in exchange for a draft pick. Jonathan Vilma. One of a handful of key veterans released this offseason.
The one key variable still at play remains the Saints' unsigned franchise player, Tight End Jimmy Graham. It is widely believed that Graham and his representatives would like to work out an agreement with New Orleans at some point before late April, which is the deadline for Graham to file a grievance with the NFLPA contesting his designation as a Tight End. Graham, who would prefer to be tagged as a receiver due to the extra money he would earn, is said to be seeking in the neighborhood of $10 million per year. The Saints are also hopeful that a deal can be reached which would prevent a grievance hearing and the fallout which could lead to a distraction throughout the team's offseason preparations.
With the majority of it's moves seemingly made, the New Orleans Saints can focus on Jimmy Graham and next month's NFL Draft. Even so, there could still be a move or two to be made to further bolster the strength of the roster heading into the summer. With Brian de la Puente signing for the Chicago Bears over the weekend, the team could look to add a veteran to compete with former undrafted free agent and possible starter Tim Lelito for the Center gig. Former Saint Jonathan Goodwin could be a possibility, perhaps on a one-year deal near the veteran minimum.
The team can also begin honing in on their final preparations for the draft. With various needs to address, such as CB, OL, LB, DL and WR, the Saints can also finalize their draft board to focus on the best prospects available. The team has a good history of unearthing undrafted diamonds in the rough, and can begin assembling a pool of players they believe may go unselected.
Declaring the New Orleans Saints as winners, losers, genius or incompetent have become hot-button, polarizing topics throughout sports media. However, it is certain that the team has a plan as it prepares to build off a 2013 season which saw them back in the playoffs and on the brink of reaching another conference title game.
While question marks over unproven players and the futures of others remain, the Saints appear committed to putting their cards on the table in order to make another run in 2014. If the moves made in free agency have any indication as of what is to come, Saints fans should remain on the edge of their seats and buckle up for another exciting ride.