After a brief press conference by New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday, it may have left fans with a glimmer of hope when the King of the Calculator mentioned the team had some wiggle room with their salary cap space this year followed by the word, “aggressive” in regards to free agency.
Visions of landing the cream of the crop in certain areas of need for the Saints certainly isn’t out of reach, but you have to be realistic as well when it comes to translating the big difference between “aggressive” and being “competitive” in free agency.
From 2009-2013, minus the wash of a season in 2012 due to Bountygate, the Saints were both in regards to being aggressive going after a player and also being competitive when it came to luring a player who was waffling on where to go.
“Come on down to New Orleans man! We got Sean Payton, Drew Brees, a high flying offense that is unstoppable, a super hype ‘when your here you’re family’ loyal fanbase, oh and the food ain’t too shabby neither.”
I’m sure the pitch made by Payton and Loomis is way better but you get my drift.
Basically in a nutshell, the Saints were always “in the hunt” when it came to playoffs and championships.
Nowadays it seems the Saints are purely hunting for coaches to fill their staff or answers to why they’ve gone 7-9 three years in a row, which to even the most oblivious isn’t hard to see.
Potential free agents see it too and the old lure that used to have them biting for the Saints just isn’t appealing anymore especially when you have teams like the Cleveland Browns with $108 million in cap space all the way down to the Carolina Panthers with a shade under $50 million to spend.
I get it, those teams are or have been on the downslide so why would somebody choose them over the Saints?
Easy answer is the number that was close to their name a few lines up i.e. money…..
The Saints will be working with right around $30 million in cap space during free agency (possibly a bit more if they can get players like Jarius Byrd to rework his deal) and when you add in that some of that will likely be used to re-sign some of their own free agents plus their 2017 draft class, it shrinks up quick.
Now I’m not saying the Saints or more specifically Loomis won’t be throwing out some cash to bring in some big free agents that can help immediately, but they won’t likely be able to fill every area of need and have to do a bit of bargain shopping much like they did last year.
I’ve heard Saints fans wanting a flashy free agent signing like defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, but he’s reportedly wanting a 5-year/$85 million dollar contract so you’re going to have to get the most bang for your buck in some areas they’re looking to bolster like guard, linebacker, cornerback, and even a return man on special teams.
Let’s take a look at five random, or more accurately not obvious free agents, that could be targets for the Saints with the assumption they go all in on a certain position and bargain shop the others:
Prince Amukamara-Cornerback(Jacksonville Jaguars)
I’m sure that A.J. Boyue, Trumaine Brock, or even Morris Claiborne is on the wish-list for most of you but even Claiborne will be wanting a nice payday although he’s been saddled with injuries his career.
Amukamara may not be at the top of the list for shutdown corners but ProFootball Focus gave him a grade that is just above Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford who Saints fans know all too well and just signed a four year extension for $38 million.
A former 2011 first round pick of the New York Giants, Amukamara has had his share of injuries that limited his first year to seven games and his 2014 season to just eight.
During the course of his career with the Giants and this past year with the Jacksonville Jaguars he has totaled 310 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and seven interceptions with the 2016 being his most unglamorous one registering just 49 tackles and no interceptions.
His one-year “prove it” deal with Jacksonville was for a total of $5.5 million and I don’t know if he’ll command that on the open market.
Despite a down season, Amukamara could bounce back and have a resurgence with a team much like players such as defensive tackle Nick Fairley and cornerback Sterling Moore did with the Saints.
John Simon-Outside Linebacker(Houston Texans)
Simon may not be a household name for those outside the Houston Texans fanbase…okay he may not even be a household name with even some of the Texans fanbase but he’s been trying to be.
A fourth round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, Simon played in seven games registering just four tackles that season before being waived and picked up by the Houston Texans.
Simon spent the 2015 season starting off at stronside linebacker before being placed in the rotation at outside linebacker with Jadeveon Clowney, racking up 53 total tackles and five sacks.
He continued in that role this past season and accumulated 51 tackles, a forced fumble, and 3.5 sacks before a chest injury limited him to only eleven games.
The former Ohio State Buckeye appears to be on the upswing of his career so being able to get him in the area of current Saints linebacker Craig Robertson’s 3-yr/$5 million dollar contract would be reasonable and possibly another steal.
Andre Branch-Defensive End(Miami Dolphins)
If there is one thing that should catch your eye about Branch is consistency in his five years in the league after being selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
During his four years with the Jaguars he had 19.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 91 total tackles before signing a one year deal in 2016 with the Miami Dolphins for $2.75 million.
He was behind fellow defensive end Cameron Wake on the depth chart and still managed to grab 49 total tackles(highest of his career), two forced fumbles, and 5.5 sacks.
We know that Paul Kruger was not the answer for an end opposite Cameron Jordan and Kasim Edebali isn’t either after a breakout year in 2015(5 sacks) that plummeted back to earth in 2016(1 sack).
At 27 years old Branch is still a young player and would be prime for contract in the three year range for a relatively good price.
Hey his agent is Jimmy Sexton so we wouldn’t have to worry about price haggling right?
Wait a second…..
Jahri Evans-Offensive Guard(New Orleans Saints)
Okay I’m cheating a bit but just hang with me because yes I already know that Jahri is an “in-house free agent” but it still makes him a free agent.
The Saints could try to grab a guard in the second round of the draft but even if they snag a really good one, the first year for an offensive lineman is usually the roughest and I’d prefer to have a veteran who knows not only the position but the offense as well.
And when quarterback Drew Brees is calling out “Double Fire, Waggle Z, Smoke Dragon, Spider 2 Y X Banana/Mango/Whatever” I’d rather not see a rookie’s brain get scrambled on a steep learning curve in the YOLO Year of the Brees/Payton era.
Dallas Cowboys guard Ronald Leary and Detroit Lions Larry Warford could be some possible candidates but I have a suspicion that their respective team or another team will pay handsomely to keep them or lure them away.
The Saints wanted several guards in free agency last year with Kelechi Osemele being at the top, but the Oakland Raiders had the money to give him a 5-year/$58.5 million dollar contract and I fear that could be the case this year too with Leary, Warford, and other top guards like T.J. Lang or Kevin Zeitler.
The Saints were able to bring Evans back last year on a 1-year/$1 million dollar contract after releasing him in February 2016 only to slide him back onto the offensive line upon his release from the Seattle Seahawks seven months later.
Evans played well this past season and although not up to his old form, PFF still graded him up there with the likes of Leary and Warford so bringing him back on a cap friendly deal makes sense.
Brandon Tate-Wide Receiver(Buffalo Bills)
Whoa, whoa, whoa, Gene!
We’ve already got one of the top receiving corps in the NFL right now so why do we want to add another wide receiver to the mix?
Well what the Saints don’t have is one of the top return games in the NFL, which is actually what Brandon Tate has excelled at this past season.
According to Pro Football Reference, Tate was considered to be a top ten returner in 2016 in not only kickoffs, but punt returns as well.
In kickoff returns he ranked seventh overall in the NFL with 29 returns with 662 yards, averaging out at 22.8 yards a return.
He moved up to fifth overall in the NFL with his punt return ability which saw him take 26 returns for 301 yards which ended up averaging out at 11.6 yards a return.
The only knock if you want to say is that on returns he didn’t manage to take any in for a score but I think the Saints would settle for field position at this point of their bleak special teams years.
The good thing about Tate is that he is an experienced veteran with eight years in the league and likely won’t cost a huge amount considering he signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills last year for $760,000.
He’s also spent time on some championship and playoff teams such as the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals as a fill in wide receiver with 1,018 yards receiving and six touchdowns in his career.