It was hard not to joke yesterday that the New Orleans Saints made their first “big splash” into 2016 NFL Free Agency by signing of all things — a kicker???
Yes, the the team took their first toe dip into the free agency pool with the signing of former Louisiana Tech, Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Josh Scobee on a one-year deal.
While not flashy, the Saints needed some bodies at kicker and according to Spotrac.com it won’t set the team back too much with the one-year, $985,000 deal and a salary cap hit of $600,000.
OverTheCap.com is showing that the Saints currently have $10,413,597 in salary cap space and that is before they have factored in the Scobee deal, so the club should have a shade under $9 million to work with leading up to March 9th when free agency will begin.
Of course, the much talked about extension for quarterback Drew Brees that will free up what is speculated to be around $10 million has yet to materialize; and looks less likely to be done before the clock starts in a few days.
Feb 2, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during the Microsoft future of football press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints could do a few more restructures to other contracts to free up some more money, but don’t hold your breath on that too long.
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Even if they did have some major spending cash, the Saints have a tricky road to travel into a free agency “minefield” that will blow up in their face with the slightest misstep.
Technically they shouldn’t have any leg to stand on from the one’s they’ve planted their foot on in the past few years with cornerback Brandon Browner being one of the latest blunders and hopefully served them with a wakeup call.
Browner, by the way, is still technically with the team although it’s widely reported and acknowledged that he’ll be released which will free up some more cap space, but also heap on some more of that good old dead money that the team actually ranks number one in right now. (Yay, we’re number one!!!!!!)
Yeah, at giving out horrible contracts to players that don’t fit, quit, are hurt for more time on their contract than healthy, or sling a belt like a bull whip that would make Indiana Jones envious.
The Saints absolutely can not afford to push the salary cap credit card anymore, especially with a 2016 free agency class that could offer either a huge piece of the puzzle for a bargain or hole in dam that will leak more money.
To use another analogy: if Free Agency was a course that the Saints needed to get a passing grade to graduate on time, they’d flunk it altogether. And for a team trying to get back to a Super Bowl before their late-thirtysomething QB retires, they can’t afford to flunk it this time around.
Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson (95) reacts during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi
This year, there are some major names hitting the market in an area the team needs, which is along the defensive line and more importantly, pass rushers.
Marquee defensive ends like Mario Williams, Chris Long, and Chris Clemons are out there, but at what price and also: do they truly fit what the Saints are “looking for” with their core values they’ve vowed to not stray from?
Williams basically admitted he took plays off last year because he was disgruntled; Long only wants to sign with a contender (the Saints are 7-9 last 2 years); and Clemons was said to be a no-show at OTA’s while with Jacksonville , which drew the ire of head coach Gus Bradley — so what do you think Sean Payton would think?
One player that could be appealing to the team is defensive end Charles Johnson; who was released by the Carolina Panthers and has averaged almost nine sacks in the past six seasons he’s been a starter.
The only thing that hindered that average, and something the Saints would need to look at, is he was placed on injured reserve (designated to return) this past September with a hamstring strain that limited him to nine games and one sack, although he was reactivated in November and did have three sacks and two forced fumbles in the postseason, with one of those each in Super Bowl 50.
Yet even Johnson harkens back to how much you’re willing to pay; since in 2011 he signed a six-year deal with the Panthers that averaged close to $12.6 million per year, and it was largely the reason why he was released by them.
Other positions of need that offer pitfalls are at offensive guard and linebacker, or more specifically the weakside linebacker spot.
Nov 15, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (55) is introduced to the crowd prior to the start of a game between the St. Louis Rams and the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
One of Long’s former teammate’s, linebacker James Laurinaitis, came in for a visit (much to the chagrin of our editor Barry Hirstius), but left without a contract.
The puzzling thing about that was Laurinaitis has mainly played middle linebacker; which begs the questions of: would the Saints put him at the weakside? (no thanks), would he be (or want to be) a backup to current middle linebacker Stephone Anthony?, or — if Laurinaitis is signed to play the middle spot, does Anthony transition smoothly to a position say at either weakside or strongside linebacker?
The one player player that fans have on their wish list at linebacker is Denver Broncos ILB Danny Trevathan; and while he isn’t a complete long-shot to get, he’ll definitely command some spending of some readily available cash-flow.
So…. do the Saints sign a second-tier player and pray their hearts out that Dannell Ellerbe stays healthy; or spend on someone like Trevathan, and have Ellerbe as quality depth?
Offensive guard is an important one for the Saints considering there are plenty of options out there, but as with the linebacker dilemma: do you want just an “option” protecting Brees?
The Saints could have some depth with Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete, but a veteran guard would be the route to take to keep #9 upright.
Jan 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos guard Evan Mathis (69) blocks for quarterback Peyton Manning (18) against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 to advance to the Super Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Free agents like Kelechi Osemele and Alex Boone would be great additions to the Saints offensive line but will they be in the price range for the team to sign (Osemele not likely) and still allow other moves to be made in free agency?
Broncos guard Evan Mathis is another signing that would add a veteran player to the rotation for a good price since he signed with Denver last season on a one-year deal that was worth $3.25 million.
But according to ProFootballRumors.com Mathis, at 34 years old, is “contemplating retirement” and if his heart isn’t in it anymore then we don’t need to see another Olin Kreutz situation for the Saints.
Of course, the Saints have needs everywhere going forward and could stand to add a veteran wide receiver and cornerback, to shore up some depth as well as experience on the roster.
With so many absolute needs and little cash to do it with currently, that makes the walk through that Free Agency “minefield” that much longer, and definitely more narrow.
And based solely on the lessons learned from failing grades in previous years — the Saints can’t afford to “flunk” Free Agency, this time around……