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hagan714 02-12-2010 09:42 PM

New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
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New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
By Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune
February 11, 2010, 6:00AM

It seems awfully early to be asking the New Orleans Saints, "What have you done for us lately?"

But the NFL scouting combine kicks off in less than two weeks, and the free-agent signing period begins March 5. So it's already time to start working on that repeat.

The good news is that the Super Bowl champs likely will be able to keep their roster mostly intact. Assuming the NFL heads into this year without a salary cap, as expected, the Saints will have only two unrestricted free agents in their starting lineup -- safety Darren Sharper and outside linebacker Scott Fujita.

Chances are the Saints will be able to keep both, and they'll likely also hang on to tailback Reggie Bush despite his exorbitant $8 million salary in 2010.

The bad news is that the Saints will be restricted severely in adding players to the mix. As one of the final four playoff teams, they're not allowed to sign any unrestricted free agents from other teams unless that player is released and passes through waivers, or unless the Saints lose one of their unrestricted free agents to another team first.

In that case, the new player's salary can't exceed the former player's salary. In other words, the Saints can't lose Kendrick Clancy and replace him with Julius Peppers.

And of course, for the first time in franchise history, the Saints won't draft until the final pick in Round 1. . . . Not that anyone is complaining.

Here's a breakdown of the six most pressing issues facing the Super Bowl champs over the coming months:

The Saints have nine players set to become unrestricted free agents March 5: Sharper, Fujita, quarterback Mark Brunell, tight ends Billy Miller, Darnell Dinkins and Dan Campbell, center Nick Leckey, defensive tackle Clancy and safety Pierson Prioleau.

The market for Sharper will be much more competitive than it was last year, when he signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal in New Orleans. But it would be shocking if the Saints didn't bring him back.

For one, they could use the franchise tag on Sharper, a 34-year-old safety, which would cost them $6.455 million for one year. Or they could work out a longer-term deal that both sides prefer.

Some other teams might make big offers to try and steal Sharper, but at his age, he won't get mega-millions. And chances are he'll want to stay in New Orleans, where he was such a great fit in coordinator Gregg Williams' defense.

Fujita, 30, likely will come back at an affordable price. At his age, the free-agent market might be limited. Plus he'd love to stay in New Orleans, where he has embraced the team and the town.

The Saints need to get younger at both outside linebacker spots, but they'll try to do that through the draft. Because they can't sign any unrestricted free agents from other teams, there's even more incentive for them to keep their players.

The Saints like Brunell, 39, even though he wasn't impressive in his only start in Week 17 at Carolina. So they might bring him back at a cheap price. Or maybe they'll try to develop a young replacement. Among the other free-agent backups, Miller, Dinkins, Leckey and Prioleau seem the most likely to return, although they could all go either way.

Now, this is an impressive list of talent. The Saints have 21 restricted free agents, including five starters and three current or former Pro Bowl players. They are:

Offensive tackles Jammal Brown, Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief, guard Jahri Evans, running backs Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell, receivers Lance Moore and Courtney Roby, tight ends David Thomas and Tory Humphrey, fullback Kyle Eckel, safeties Roman Harper, Usama Young and Chris Reis, cornerback Leigh Torrence, defensive tackles Anthony Hargrove, Remi Ayodele and Rodney Leisle, defensive end Jeff Charleston and linebackers Marvin Mitchell and Anthony Waters.

Because they're restricted, the Saints will have the right to match any offer they sign with another team. And if the Saints choose to let them go to other teams, they could receive draft picks as compensation, depending on the size of the one-year contract tender the Saints offer them.

That amount varies from $1.101 million for original draft-pick compensation to $3.043 million for a first- and third-round draft pick compensation, depending on the player's years of service.

The Saints could reasonably afford to bring back all 21 players on one-year deals. Or they might decide to work out long-term extensions with some of them. Or, they might want to dangle a couple of players in trades -- such as one of those offensive tackles, perhaps, because that position is in such high demand around the league.

Bush's base salary is scheduled to jump from $2.585 million in 2009 to $8 million in 2010, then $11.8 million in 2011, with bonuses thrown in each year. Obviously, that's a little more than he would be worth on the open market, considering he hasn't turned into the next Barry Sanders or Marshall Faulk.

But at the same time, the Saints probably can't strong-arm Bush into taking a pay cut, because he isn't afraid of being released into free agency. Bush, who turns 24 next month, is still a tantalizing enough talent to make serious money in the open market.

A trade doesn't make much sense, because no other team would value Bush more than the Saints do. Coach Sean Payton loves having him as a huge distraction in the middle of his diverse offense. The Saints probably wouldn't give him up for a fifth- or sixth-round pick, and no other team would likely invest a high pick and all that money for him.

Most likely, the Saints will talk to Bush about reworking his contract to include an extension, or they'll pony up and pay him the big bucks this year.

Grant is the one starter who might be released by the Saints unless he agrees to a pay cut. Grant, 31, is coming off a second major triceps injury in two years. His production has declined recently. And his base salary is scheduled to jump to $4 million this year.

Another thing working against Grant is that the Saints can avoid a major salary-cap charge by releasing him this year because there is no salary cap. Grant signed a seven-year contract extension in 2007, which had a maximum value of $63 million if he reached all incentives.

Normally when a player is released with four years remaining on his contract, the team still needs to count a large portion of his original signing bonus against their salary cap for one more year. The Saints wouldn't have to worry about that this year.

At some point in the next year or two, the Saints will make Brees one of the richest players in NFL history. Think $20 million per year.

There is no immediate need to get a deal done, because Brees, 31, has two years remaining on his six-year, $60 million contract. But the two sides will at least begin some discussions this summer to see how far apart they are.

One way or another, it would be an absolute shock if Brees went into the 2011 season without a new deal -- assuming, of course, that there is a 2011 season.

The Saints aren't afraid to pluck talent from other teams, like they've done getting tight end Jeremy Shockey, linebackers Jonathan Vilma, Scott Shanle and Mark Simoneau, center Jeff Faine and defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, among others in recent years. So don't count out that possibility, especially since their hands are tied in free agency.

If they want to be bold and break the bank to keep the magic going, maybe they'll consider Peppers, the Carolina defensive end who likely would be the highest-paid free agent in the league this year if the Panthers let him go.

If they want to make Brees happy, maybe they'll consider his close friend, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who appears to be on his way out in San Diego. It's tough to see where Tomlinson fits, though, with Thomas and Bush on the roster.

Chances are, the Saints won't make any big splashes. After all, this current roster made a big enough splash on its own this year.

Mike Triplett can be reached at mtriplett@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3405.

New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason | New Orleans Saints Central - - NOLA.com

lynwood 02-12-2010 11:15 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
I think we can shore up a couple spots in the draft like LB and another DE. If we can keep the majority of the current personnel with a few quality backups I think we will be fine. Draft another Safty,CB, OL,DL, and QB and maybe another TE or FB.

QBREES9 02-12-2010 11:17 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
There is a lot of great info in that story.

ScottF 02-13-2010 08:57 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
UFA- Fujita should be affordable, and who knows with Sharper? Does he take more money elsewhere knowing he is at the end of his career? No way we franchise him and pay him $6.5 million

Offensive tackles Jammal Brown, Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief-- leverage them against each other, but I really like all 3

Jahri Evans- 2nd most important offensive player we have: backup the money truck

running backs Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell- depends on the Reggie situation; obviously you pay PT

Lance Moore- sign him now that value has dropped drastically
Courtney Roby, Chris Reis-ST aces, but for how much?

David Thomas- be nice to have some stability- of our 5 TE's, keep him
Tory Humphrey & fullback Kyle Eckel- at our price
Roman Harper- with guys in the wings, he might need to take a 1 year
Usama Young- I went to Kent, so I like him, but it is time to cut ties

defensive tackles Anthony Hargrove, Remi Ayodele -played well enough, but we need to get better here

Interchangeable backups:
Rodney Leisle, defensive end Jeff Charleston and linebackers Marvin Mitchell and Anthony Waters, cornerback Leigh Torrence

Rugby Saint II 02-13-2010 11:32 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
To me the most pressing issue is DT. We don't get nearly the pressure that we need. I would also like to see a new DE brought in and cut Grant. Line backer needs an upgrade on the outside. If we could find a good LT and trade Brown for some one that commits fewer penalties. Restructure Reggie and sign Evans to a long term deal.

Boutte 02-13-2010 12:56 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
This O-line is awesome. They might match the Dome Patrol LB corps by one day having the entire unit in the Pro-Bowl.

SaintFanInATLHELL 02-13-2010 02:34 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ScottF (Post 208014)
UFA- Fujita should be affordable, and who knows with Sharper? Does he take more money elsewhere knowing he is at the end of his career? No way we franchise him and pay him $6.5 million

The Saints certainly could if they wanted to. Sharper was instrumental to the team getting to the Promised Land. So the $6.5 million could be a simple 1 year reward for a job well done.

Sharper is probably going to both want the money and a longer term contract. But dude is 33.

Hopefully the team and the player will talk over the next couple of weeks. If both side can agree to accept the tag with Sharper signing the tender, then it could work out for both sides.

Usually with the tag, problems occur when it is applied unilaterally.

Quote:

Offensive tackles Jammal Brown, Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief-- leverage them against each other, but I really like all 3
I know that most Saints fans won't agree, but Brown is still heads and shoulders better than the other two. Tender all 3, with Brown at the 1st and 3rd tender level, let it go another year, and let's see what the CBA shakes out to before making any decisions.
Quote:

Jahri Evans- 2nd most important offensive player we have: backup the money truck
Agreed. Jahri deserves his money. No need to screw around.

Quote:

running backs Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell- depends on the Reggie situation; obviously you pay PT
Unfortunately it's not so obvious. Reggie represents a unique situation. He's more than a RB. Also for whatever reason, he's also one of the media superstars of the team. His money is more than just his performance on the field. I know most fans don't like that fact. But it is a fact.

PT23 does deserve his money. But it situation with Reggie is going to have to shake out before any big time decisions about his money is made. So he's going to probably get a RFA tender at some level and get a pay raise but not a long term contract.

Quote:

Lance Moore- sign him now that value has dropped drastically
He's still an RFA. Probably can get away with offering a lower tender this year now that Mechem showed up.

Quote:

Courtney Roby, Chris Reis-ST aces, but for how much?

David Thomas- be nice to have some stability- of our 5 TE's, keep him
Tory Humphrey & fullback Kyle Eckel- at our price
Roman Harper- with guys in the wings, he might need to take a 1 year
Usama Young- I went to Kent, so I like him, but it is time to cut ties

defensive tackles Anthony Hargrove, Remi Ayodele -played well enough, but we need to get better here

Interchangeable backups:
Rodney Leisle, defensive end Jeff Charleston and linebackers Marvin Mitchell and Anthony Waters, cornerback Leigh Torrence
It's all going to be on hold for a year. With the CBA up in the air only the superstars are going to get paid.

Loomis is probably going to simply sink a bunch of one year tender contracts to keep the team together in 2010 and wait out to see what the new CBA landscape is going to be.

Most likely next offseason will be the offseason of big signings or big releases.

The only one thing I see this offseason is Grant getting a take it or leave it restructure. He's going to have to take a drastic pay cut or have his contract dropped into the black hole of the uncapped year.

BTW I just wanted to say I'm glad that Will Smith came back healthy and earned his money. So I hope I don't see anyone talking about him restructuring.

SFIAH

nicebush25 02-14-2010 01:03 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
Drop Shanle, Grant, Harper + sign J. Porter, Peppers + draft T. Mayes = repeat

ScottF 02-15-2010 08:52 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by nicebush25 (Post 208199)
Drop Shanle, Grant, Harper + sign J. Porter, Peppers + draft T. Mayes = repeat

No chance.
Peppers & Porter will be overpaid by someone. Mays is top 15.

I am not a big fan of Shanle, but say what you want, he is the best we have over there, and is affordable.

CantonLegend 02-15-2010 12:36 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints' six most pressing issues in offseason
 
saints biggest worries should be re-signing the super bowl champions

bringing in other players is all well and good but we are champs with these players....we will be contenders next year with these players

the worst possible thing would be to drop some solid players for a gamble like peppers and have it bite us in the ass.....he costs way to much and people are already complaining about grant and smiths contracts.....well how is 8 sacks per year going to go over when we are paying peppers 18 million a year?


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