As free agency got underway Tuesday, the New Orleans Saints came out swinging for the fences and connected with a homerun into the sky boxes as they agreed to terms on a 6 year deal with the market's premier Safety, Jairus Byrd. The momentum carried into Wednesday, as the team announced it has reached an agreement on a 2 year extension with long serving Running Back Pierre Thomas.
Like Byrd's signing, the news of the deal with Thomas comes as somewhat of a surprise, given the Saints were believed to be shopping both Thomas and fellow Running Back Darren Sproles. While Sproles is still likely to be dealt or released, Thomas will stay in New Orleans for at least another year. The former undrafted free agent out of Illinois will enter his eighth season in New Orleans in 2014, and figures to continue to play an important role in the Saints' offense. Pierre Thomas
While Thomas's scheduled 2014 salary of $2.9 million was not by any means considered to be excessive, the Saints were exploring all options to maximize their cap space, and briefly put Thomas on the trade block. Unable to find any suitable deals, the team instead opted to offer him an extension, which will in turn lower his cap hit, making it even more reasonable to keep him on board. Thomas's role may decrease somewhat, with the emergence of both Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, but his experience, leadership and abilities as an all purpose back are invaluable to New Orleans.
Thomas matched a career high with 147 total carries in 2013. He rushed for 549 yards and 2 scores, while setting a career high in receptions with 77. He added 3 receiving touchdowns and a 6.7 yards per catch average to his stat line. Even if Ingram and Robinson spearhead the Saints' ground game moving forward, Thomas should still play an important part when called upon, given the team's desire to committ to the run game in order to better sustain drives and balance out their normally pass-happy attack.
The Saints get the best of both worlds here; they keep a valuable veteran in Pierre Thomas, while also lowering his impact on the team's salary cap for next season. It's hard to imagine a better start for a team with lofty goals for the 2014 season, but the Saints have delivered thus far. Time will tell what lies ahead, but GM Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton clearly have a plan for how to manage their roster needs within the framework of tender cap conditions.