5 Biggest New Orleans Saints Storylines To Follow Leading Up To Free Agency
5 Biggest Storylines to Follow Leading Up To Free Agency
With free agency less than 10 days away, the New Orleans Saints’ roster remains in flux and there could be several news faces at the start of the 2014 season in both starting and reserve roles. The roster turnover got started several weeks ago when the Saints released former Super Bowl contributors Will Smith, Roman Harper, and Jabari Greer. Those three moves saved the Saints $16.9 million against the 2014 salary cap, which is the name of the game for the Saints as they currently have the third-least cap room in the NFL with just $1.5 million free.
Are the Saints finished with their trimming and prepping of the roster before free agency? I would guess that they still have a few moves left to make before they feel confident about executing their offseason plan in its entirety. Just under $2 million in salary cap space is not ideal for general manager Mickey Loomis and it would certainly limit his ability to make any free agent signings from other teams. Last offseason, the Saints were able to target a mid-range priced free agent, corner back Keenan Lewis, who they secured for just $5 million annually. According to Pro Football Focus, in 2013 Lewis was the 16th-best corner back out of 40 qualifiers who played at leas 75 percent of their team's snaps.
If the team wants to have a chance at signing another undervalued free agent who can thrive with a move to the Saints, they will need to execute several more moves before free agency opens up. These moves could come in different forms: They can restructure current contracts with high salary cap numbers in 2014 or cut more veterans from the 2013 squad. Either way, it seems unlikely that Loomis and the Saints will enter the free agency period with the third-least salary cap space. Click through to see what I deem to be the five biggest questions heading into free agency and how the Saints are most likely to address each one.
Dan Schneier is a New York Giants writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @pff_dansc, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network through Google.
5. Will The Team Restructure Drew Brees’ Contract?
At the conclusion of the season, Drew Brees claimed that he would be willing to restructure his contract to help the team’s salary cap situation. While there is no doubt in my mind that Brees is all for whatever is in the team’s best favor, let’s not mistake a salary restructure for a pay cut. Restructuring his contract won’t chop off his salary, and instead what it does effectively do is lessen his cap number for this season while spreading the cap hit over future years. Nonetheless, this option is one way for the Saints to create several million in salary cap space before free agency kicks off.
4. Will The Team Wait Until The Draft To Address WR?
An argument can be made that the Saints need to upgrade wide receiver. Last year's top-three receivers carry question marks. Marques Colston’s diminishing effectiveness, Lance Moore’s lost lateral agility, and the fact that Kenny Stills is still raw as a technician give the Saints an opportunity to upgrade in what should be a great market in both free agency and the draft. The free agent market is set to be a buyer’s market with talented mid-priced receivers likely to be available at the later stages. However, the best move for the Saints might be to wait until the draft and target players there — I mentioned Jordan Matthews and Jared Abrrederis in my Saints' post-combine full mock draft, and they could also target a talented player like Kevin Norwood in the late rounds.
3. Are Any More Players Going To Be Cut?
The easiest way to clear salary cap room is to simply release players, and there are several players who could also potentially be cut this week.
Pierre Thomas: The Saints could release Thomas and recoup the entirety of his $2.9 million cap hit in salary cap space for 2014 — there is no dead money. Thomas, 30 years of age, is still a great player, but the Saints have an interesting option waiting behind him in Khiry Robinson.
Lance Moore: In recent seasons, Moore has not displayed the same lateral agility and quickness that were trademark to him in the past. He carries a $5.07 cap hit for 2014, and the team can free up $2.53 of it in cap space by cutting him.
Patrick Robinson: The former first-round pick has been a frustrating player and pretty close to an absolute bust. Releasing him would save $1.36 million in cap space from his $2.8 million total cap number.
2. Are They Going To Retain Any Of Their Own Free Agents?
The team also has three key contributors from 2013 set to hit the market as unrestricted free agents—center Brian De La Puente, right tackle Zach Strief, and safety Malcolm Jenkins.
With so much money already invested at the guard position, between Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, it seems like De La Puente might get a deal elsewhere that averages $4-5 million.
The team has already begun talks with Strief’s agent, and they hope to re-sign him before free agency begins. He was solid but unspectacular in 2013.
Jenkins has likely played his last down as a Saint. Safety is a major need throughout the league, and the Saints are unlikely to allocate the few resources they have to a player who never lived up to his draft billing.
1. What Is Going To Happen With Jimmy Graham?
On Friday, the Saints used the tight end franchise tag on Jimmy Graham. Much to the dismay of Graham, the tight end designation is set to pay him Just $7.035 million, which is over $4 million less than he would make if tagged as a wide receiver. Here are the three options I can see playing out, in order of most likely to least likely to come true.
A. Graham fights the battle to be tagged like a receiver, loses it, and the Saints eventually re-sign him to a long-term contract after free agency but before the draft.
B. Graham wins the battle to be tagged like a receiver, it causes some discomfort in the organization, but eventually he signs a long-term contract with the team.
C. Graham loses the battle to be tagged like a receiver and the Saints never give him a long-term deal this season, instead using the extra cap space to build a stronger roster in the short term.