For Saints' Loomis, March is both exciting and excruciating
Posted: Thursday March 13, 2003 7:44 PM
Updated: Thursday March 13, 2003 8:23 PM
March is the time of year in the NFL when all things seem possible. The sting of last season's disappointments and defeats has sufficiently worn off -- except maybe in Oakland -- and the sense of optimism that always springs from the process of scouting and acquiring new talent has begun to infuse most organizations with renewed hope.
From this vantage point, no one in the NFL this offseason has as many intriguing possibilities than the New Orleans Saints, a team that has been almost impossible to get a handle on the past two seasons.
When we last saw the Saints, of course, they were in the process of choking away yet another NFC playoff berth with a second consecutive late-season slide. It wasn't as ugly as 2001's monumental four-game collapse, but it was darn close, given that New Orleans started last season a surprising 6-1, stumbled to 8-5 and then embarrassingly dropped its final three games to last-place teams.
So why do the Saints get the nod as the team with the most exciting options in their immediate future? Because they have as much ammunition as anyone to make several meaningful moves in the coming six weeks, perhaps significantly altering the makeup of their 2003 roster.
Between now and the April 26-27 draft, New Orleans is a solid-to-strong bet to:
Find a team willing to trade for controversial but talented offensive tackle Kyle Turley, most likely for a second-round pick and another conditional selection. After last spring's Willie Roaf deal, it would mark the second consecutive year the Saints had shipped off a Pro Bowl-level tackle.
Fill its need at safety by trading for New England's designated franchise player, Tebucky Jones, whose status with the Patriots was left in question this week when the team signed free-agent safety Rodney Harrison. Jones would in essence give New Orleans a high-quality replacement for free agent Sammy Knight.
Aggressively pursue a deal into the top 10 or even top five of the draft in the quest for an impact defensive rookie (cornerback Terence Newman?). New Orleans is one of the few teams that can consider such a maneuver because it could own as many as two picks in each of the first three rounds, depending on how potential trades involving Turley and Jones shake out.
Those moves would be in addition to what the Saints already have accomplished, such as acquiring backup quarterback Todd Bouman from Minnesota for a sixth-round pick on Thursday, thereby filling the void left by Jake Delhomme's departure for Carolina, and signing left tackle Wayne Gandy, cornerback Ashley Ambrose and middle linebacker Orlando Ruff in free agency.
Many other teams might end up having a more active offseason, but few will be as interesting to follow.
"We've got a lot of options, no question," Saints general manager of football operations Mickey Loomis said Thursday. "And they'll expand if we get Kyle traded and get some value for him. I think it is a fun time of the year, but you're also eating some stomach lining, too.
"We're all sitting here trying to piece this thing together, and then this or that happens and changes the dynamic, and you have to adjust and deal with that. But it is a good time of the year, because everybody's excited about their team and their chances."
Here's a synopsis of where the Saints stand in regards to their three above-mentioned potential deals:
As much as the Saints would like to be done with the Turley trade, his market has yet to crystallize. St. Louis and San Diego remain the most interested parties. Chicago and Jacksonville are slightly longer shots, and Denver and Houston fill out the field.
Nobody at this point has aggressively pursued Turley, who is entering the final year of his contract and would need to negotiate a new deal with his new team before a trade could be finalized.
"We haven't got a concrete offer yet for Kyle, put it that way," Loomis said. "Everybody pretty much knows what we're looking for and what Kyle's agent [Tom Condon] is looking for. But now everybody's kind of regrouping after two weeks of free agency and letting things settle a little bit, to see if [trading for Turley] is their best option."
One development that may spark movement in Turley's situation occurred Thursday, when former Cleveland right tackle Orlando Brown signed a one-year deal with Baltimore. Until then, Brown offered teams seeking a tackle a less-expensive option than Turley. Also, teams in the market for a tackle are doing their due diligence in terms of draft preparation, trying to figure out if they can address their need via that route, without trading away picks or adding a player who figures to command a $10 million signing bonus.
The Turley talks may not get serious until a few more options are eliminated in the tackle market. Though the Saints are seeking a first-round pick in exchange for Turley, they are expected to accept a second-rounder, providing the deal is sweetened with a future conditional pick.
Trading for Tebucky:
The Patriots are asking for a second-rounder in exchange for Jones, but so far New Orleans is only willing to consider a third-round selection. The Saints' thinking is that if they only land a second-rounder for Turley, by turning around and shipping a No. 2 to New England, they're saying a quality left tackle is of equal value to a quality safety. That argument doesn't carry much resonance in NFL personnel departments.
The Saints also point out that they sent Roaf to Kansas City last year for a conditional 2003 fourth-rounder that became a third, returning to the same contention that the Patriots are over-valuing Jones.
"They're asking too much right now," Loomis said. "It's probably a good fit for us, but I can't say it's going to get done."
As New England's franchise player, Jones, too, would have to negotiate a new deal with his new team before any trade could be executed. The Patriots are complicating the picture a bit by saying they haven't decided if they'll trade Jones or strong safety Lawyer Milloy, but that may be an attempt to produce some leverage for themselves, creating the impression that they aren't forced to deal Jones.
The Saints say they aren't interested in Milloy, and that New England isn't likely to move him anyway, given the $5.4 million worth of cap acceleration it would have to absorb in the transaction. Not with the Patriots sitting just $440,000 under the $75 million salary cap at the start of business Thursday.
The Saints own the draft's 17th and 18th picks, the latter selection coming courtesy of Miami when Ricky Williams topped the 1,500-yard rushing plateau last season. With a second-rounder and two threes, the Saints are eager to put a package together that will land them in the top 10, which they believe is eight to 10 players deep in terms of impact performers.
New Orleans is thought to be most interested in three defensive players, Newman, and defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy and Dewayne Robertson. Fortunately for the Saints, the majority of teams in the top eight are open to the idea of trading down, including No. 1 Cincinnati, No. 3 Houston, No. 5 Dallas, No. 7 Minnesota and No. 8 Jacksonville.
"That should mean the price of moving up goes down," Loomis said hopefully. "And of the teams that want to move up, I don't perceive that any of those teams need quarterbacks and are looking to get into the top five to take one. That's usually when the biggest prices are paid to move up, if you're after a quarterback."
If the Saints would deal Turley for an extra second-round pick, then ship one of their two third-rounders to the Patriots for Jones, they'd still have five choices in the top three rounds -- a position of considerable strength whatever they decide to do. Especially since New Orleans had two first-round selections last year and landed two starters in receiver Donte' Stallworth (No. 13) and defensive end Charles Grant (No. 25).
"There's a lot to be said for sitting tight and stocking up," Loomis said. "If we had to do that again, picking up two starters in the first round, we'd be fine. They're not top 10 picks. But sitting 17 and 18, we'll be in pretty good shape."
Especially since mid-round No. 1 picks still come cheaper than veterans like Turley and Jones, and are locked up for the next five or six years. Keeping a roster infused with players on their first contract is one way to ensure you have the cap room to make a bid for a big-money free agent once in a while.
It's all about options. And right now, the Saints have more of them than just about anybody.
Don Banks covers pro football for SI.com.
Gator you had to start me again..................
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