In case it hasn’t been abundantly clear throughout the years, Sean Payton’s priority is offense. It is and always has been. And as a function of the success he’s had, the organization has adopted his philosophy and gone all in on that side of the ball. The Saints have paid a pretty penny for reputable defensive coaches in recent years, Gregg Williams and Steve Spagnuolo, so that Payton doesn’t have to even worry much about that aspect of the team. Coaches don’t count against the cap, so there’s where the team is willing to invest and hope good coaches and “coach up” lesser players. This offseason has been no different. The little cap room the Saints had was used to franchise Drew Brees while they continue to negotiate a long term deal with him, re-sign Marques Colston, and land guard Ben Grubbs as a replacement for Carl Nicks. Those are all offensive players. The message that sends is clear: we’re going to do whatever is necessary to maintain an elite level on offense while Drew Brees is in his prime, even if that’s at the expense of improving the defense. It’s hard to blame them based on the 13-3 season they just had, and when you consider what the Packers and Patriots were able to do with lackluster defenses this past season as well. Put simply, elite offenses can win without defense in this day and age, and the Saints’ offense is as elite as they come; so kudos to them for maintaining their well oiled machine.
But where does that leave the Saints on the defensive side of the ball with their current cap situation?
The cap situation hasn’t stopped them from hosting premiere free agent names, whether it be LB Curtis Lofton, LB David Hawthorne, DT Brodrick Bunkley, or LB Joe Mays (who has since re-signed with the Broncos). But can they sign these guys at the price they want? That’s where it gets more complicated. The Saints have no cap room. Because of that, they will have to either re-structure someone’s deal, something they’ve already done with Will Smith and Jahri Evans, or release someone to make the room.
As I told Ralph Malbrough on the podcast this week, I don’t see the Saints rushing to sign any of these guys. Instead, I think they’ll let the market dictate their asking price. As free agency starts, the asking price is always going to be high. As the weeks go by and these guys remain unsigned, that’s good news for the Saints because they get more desperate as they realize the demand isn’t there. It means their value isn’t what they thought it was, and they have to consider lower offers. If Hawthorne, Bunkley or anyone else get snatched up, the Saints will live with it and move on to the next best available player with a low ball offer. Why? Because there offense is so good they can afford to do that. The good news is that while these guys are never going to take a bath on their salaries, they’ll be open to making $1 million or $2 million less over the life of a deal to play with the Saints over a team like the Bengals. The advantage of being an elite team beared it’s fruits with guys like Shaun Rogers, Aubrayo Franklin and Darren Sharper and it can work again. Players will sacrifice their asking price a little bit for a chance to win, just not a lot.
So the Saints will patiently wait while good defensive players they believe can help them continue to remain jobless and the asking price continues to lower. The Saints, quite simply, can’t and won’t overspend. So they are prepared to lose out on a sexy name like the players I’ve listed that they’ve already expressed interest in, because, at the end of the day, they weren’t prepared to lose guys like Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Carl Nicks without a suitable replacement. Offense over defense. And as fans, we need to come to grips with the limitations of our “elite team” and buy into their philosophy. Why? Because it’s worked!