Saints Will Begin Shifting Focus Towards Free Agency Now


Well the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine is coming to a close later today, with the defensive back group rounding things out as usual in a surprising event of low fanfare.

Yesterday for the New Orleans Saints coaching staff was likely the big draw; as the linebackers and defensive lineman all took the field to showcase their skills or in some cases, force teams to go back to their college film to answer questions that popped up in drills or measurables testing.

The Saints had a only a few reported visits with this group at the combine; with Ohio State DE Joey Bosa being at the top of the list, followed by Mississippi State DL Chris Jones and Alabama LB Reggie Ragland.

All three fill a need for the Saints since Bosa and Jones could show some versatility at different positions within the front seven, but Ragland is my only question mark simply because I don’t see him playing the weakside linebacker — which the Saints need and he even said: most teams see him as a middle linebacker.

Heading towards the draft, the Saints will begin to shift gears towards something else that will help them reshape their roster: 2016 NFL Free Agency.

Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) hugs tight end Benjamin Watson (82) following a win against the Atlanta Falcons in a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In about a week and a half, we’ll “possibly” start to see what the draft plans will be for New Orleans, with the groundwork that’s being laid with incoming veterans and even some old faces.

Yes, the Saints have some areas within the roster that they will need to address one way or another to start March 9th off with.

Before they can begin to sign any outside help, they have several positions on offense and defense that are littered with their own free agents.

On offense, an immediate area of need will be guard and tight end; seeing as how starting guard Jahri Evans was released, and there is basically no one left at tight end with Benjamin Watson hitting the market along with Michael Hoomanawanui.

Tight end Josh Hill is a restricted free agent; and even though general manager Mickey Loomis said the reason he hasn’t had the production they wanted due to being buried on the depth chart, let’s not get fooled into thinking that’s the sole reason.

It’s also clear that at guard Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete are viable backups, but not who you’d want as your starting guard to keep the inside pressure off quarterback Drew Brees.

Sep 20, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Bobby Richardson (78) before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously on the defensive side of the ball the front seven, mainly defensive line, needs a major boost considering Bobby Richardson (who went undrafted) was your “mainstay” at the position.

The lack of quality depth at linebacker coupled with the up and down health status involving linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, is a common topic as well as a concern.

The team was forced into “street-shopping” for linebackers because of it last season, and opposing offenses preyed on the fact the Saints had special team talent that got forced into starting roles.

Some little less thought of positions on either offense or defense is the running back and secondary positions that feature a few question marks.

What will the Saints do within their own offensive backfield considering the great end-of-the-season performance by Tim Hightower and the restricted free agent status of Khiry Robinson?

With C.J. Spiller still alleged to be retained on the team, there will likely only be room for one more when it comes running back.

Big Easy Believer editor and writer Barry Hirstius has mentioned the fact about the lack of depth along the secondary and it’s not a comfortable look to be honest.

Nov 15, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis (21) is looked at by trainers after suffering an apparent leg injury during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have Rafael Bush and Jamarca Sanford becoming free agents at the safety position; and with the release of cornerback Brandon Browner combined with the shaky health of starter Keenan Lewis and Damian Swann, re-signing Kyle Wilson is likely a cheap option they’re looking towards at the very least.

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I mentioned “cheap option” since the Saints don’t have much to spend in general; with currently reporting that they have $7.7 million in salary cap space available.

But as has been widely reported and speculated, the cap number could fluctuate in their favor when it becomes ‘official’, where it’s rumored to be rising a few more million than previously projected.

Also, there is the option that the team could give Brees a contract extension that would not only lock him in for the next 3-4 years, but also give the Saints some more spending money within their own ranks as well as outside free agency.

Head coach Sean Payton stated early in the week he feels that extension will happen quickly, and now that the NFL Combine is closing down, hopefully both sides can put pen to paper on the numbers.

Loomis had said a few weeks back in his best “poker face” and nonchalant tone of voice that they didn’t need to do one, since Brees is still under contract — but I think that was a bit more low-key ‘front’ than anything. It needs to be done and everyone including Loomis knows this.

There’s also some obvious pay-cuts, restructures, and just plain cuts that will continue to happen along the way this week.

Dec 28, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (12) is congratulated by head coach Sean Payton after he scored a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. New Orleans Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Beloved wide receiver Marques Colston is said to be on the way out, although an announcement hasn’t been made official yet which would save the team almost $2.7 million.

Center Max Unger is scheduled to make $6.2 million in 2016 and Thomas Morstead $4.45 million, so a restructure would be another way to gain some room in the team’s pocket and their’s as well.

Starting tackle Zach Strief is in consideration for a pay-cut due to the money he’ll make this season ($4.5 million); paired with the fact that he’s likely on the decline and second-year man and 2015 first round pick Andrus Peat is waiting in the wings.

The big question for the Saints going into free agency will be if they can ‘hang’ with other teams in offering a competitive contract to lure them in.

Next: 3 Biggest Risers and Fallers for Saints Draft Prospects at the Combine

Years ago, the sales pitch for visiting free agents was the allure of Brees as the quarterback or the playoff caliber of the team’ which doesn’t hold that much weight anymore seeing as how players want to go with a team that will promise them a Super Bowl ring within a year or so.

So while the college scouting isn’t quite done with pro days beginning as well, the Saints will be putting the pedal down towards free agency to pave their way to the draft in April…..