The hope going into the 2016 offseason was that the New Orleans Saints could get an extension done with quarterback Drew Brees to not only lock him into the team for the long haul, but to alleviate some cap relief as well.
The team was backed up against the wall heading into free agency; with Brees’ $30 million dollar salary cap hit hanging over their heads as well as copious amounts of dead money from deals like former tight end Jimmy Graham and linebacker Junior Galette.
But as it always seems with the Saints and Brees (or more like his agent Tom Condon), they were unable to strike a deal before the season ended, or on the eve of free agency; which has lead to some bargain shopping and a bit of unexplained magic math that has allowed them to sign their own in-house free agents, as well as ones like tight end Coby Fleener and linebacker James Laurinaitis.
With free agency now stretching into the two and a half week mark, the likelihood of them being able to get Brees locked down to benefit this year is probably more about getting space to help sign their 2016 draft class and add a few more outside players for depth.
Now of course that’s not even counting the possible signing of former L.A. Rams DT Nick Fairley, who as our editor Barry Hirstius reported earlier via Ian Rappaport of NFL.com, is expected to be signing a deal with the Saints after talks between he and the New England Patriots failed to reach an agreement.
Obviously, a Brees extension would most certainly have to be in the works for any such deal with Fairley to be consumated.
Dec 27, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) gestures during the first quarter of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Just yeterday, ESPN’s Ed Werder recently said that the Saints and Brees are working towards a four year extension that Brees himself told Saints beat writer Mike Triplett he sees getting done “sooner than later”.
But we’ve heard that same song and dance before, most recently from head coach Sean Payton — who while at the NFL Scouting Combine in February said he was confident that a deal was “getting done quickly”, yet his own extension was done before Brees’ was.
It’s understandable that Payton’s is easier; since you don’t have a salary cap to contend with (with it being a coach’s contract and not a player’s contract).
On top of that, there’s added difficulty when you have a someone like Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco getting a handsome 3-year extension worth $66.4 million, which means then that negotiations can drag on.
A deal will get done no doubt which will benefit the Saints and Brees financially not only just for now, but especially for the next season as well.
If you are wondering why I’m already glancing into next season, then look no further than someone who is charged with protecting Brees than left tackle Terron Armstead — who will be a free agent.
Armstead has been solid for the Saints at his position ever since he took over and was ranked #3 out of all left tackles by Pro Football Focus in 2015, even while dealing with an injury.
Sep 20, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead (72) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
To show you how spectacular he is, PFF’s own Steve Palazzolo recently said in an interview on WWL 870 AM’s Double Coverage that the reason why the Saints offensive line was graded so high, one that was lampooned by fans, was because Armstead brought the whole group’s average up.
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The smart move to make would be to try extend Armstead once the Brees deal has cleared some cap room, otherwise it’ll mean the Saints could get into a bidding war with other teams for his services — which isn’t good considering that the trend now is to “pay big” during free agency.
Consider a player like Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams (who Armstead graded higher than), who signed a 5-year, $66 million dollar deal with $30 million guaranteed just last year, while the average salary cap hit for the top five left tackles was around $10.77 million.
Another piece of the offensive line that will be a free agent is center Max Unger; and several have theories that he already has been approached about a restructure to help with the current crop of free agent signings to stave the tide off, until Brees is brought in.
Like Armstead though, an extension would be better for the long run salary cap-wise, as well as keeping one of the top rated centers in the NFL in front of Brees for years to come.
On defense, the Saints will have a decision to make with safety Kenny Vaccaro as he’s set to hit the free agency trail as well next season, that is unless they decide to exercise the fifth-year option for the former first rounder.
Oct 19, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New Orleans Saints strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (32) against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Lions defeated the Saints 24-23. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Although he has had an “up and down”performance since his rookie year, which was arguably his best; the Saints will likely go the route they did with running back Mark Ingram, and choose to do a multi-year deal since the front office tends to disdain using franchise tags or fifth-year options unless they absolutely have to.
On the restricted free agent side, wide receivers Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman will hit the market along with linebacker Kasim Edebali; who has shown flashes of potential and is someone that defensive end Cameron Jordan has appeared to have taken under his wing.
If Snead has another year like 2015 then he will definitely be in demand, meaning he’ll at least get tendered by the Saints if not possibly warrant at least a 3-year contract; to keep the wide receiver group that is slowly beginning to meld together.
Besides the Brees extension helping with these possible moves in the future, the Saints’ dead money woes will be less of a problem — as some of that debt will be shed along with offering some much-needed relief.
And with the Saints reportedly only with $273,215 in salary cap space currently, they’ll need all the help they can get……