Saints Free Agency ‘Bargain Hunting’ Not Finished Yet


New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said in his recent interview at the NFL owner’s meeting coaches breakfast that while pass rusher and three-technique defensive tackle were musts, he also mentioned that “there’s still a need for safety” going into the 2016 season.

The Saints lost a serviceable backup in Rafael Bush — who was allowed to walk in free agency and signed with the Detroit Lions, a team that apparently likes former New Orleans Saints safeties.

While they may not be technically thin at the position, the Saints are lacking true quality starters beyond free safety Jarius Byrd and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro.

Byrd and Vaccaro have both struggled a bit at times, but Byrd receives the main attention; seeing as how he was supposed to come in and be a game changing, ball hawking safety and was compensated as such, but with less than desirable results.

Nov 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints free safety Jairus Byrd (31) and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (32) during the first quarter of a game against the New York Giants at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Behind them sit Jamarca Sanford, Vinnie Sunseri, Alden Darby, and new addition Erik Harris who was a linebacker/safety hybrid in the Canadian Football League.

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Not a very promising outlook to roll the dice with if you’re the Saints, who’ve had one of the worst defense’s imaginable in the NFL the past few seasons and even Payton referenced it when they had to watch the NFL Film’s “Season In Review” at the owner’s meeting and became lost for words trying to describe it.

Payton hinted that the Saints will likely try to find a safety in the draft and already are reportedly doing their homework with prospects like Ohio State’s Vonn Bell and Clemson’s Jayron Kearse.

Another name to watch for would be one that Big Easy Believer’s editor Barry Hirstius has mentioned in Southern Utah’s Miles “Kill Shot” Killebrew — who has developed a reputation for being a hard hitter among this safety draft class.

The only problem with drafting a safety is finding one who could come in and fill the role vacated by a veteran like Bush; and I just don’t know if Sanford or Sunseri can do that so adding a veteran in free agency is in my opinion the safe way to go.

Aug 13, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (43) runs as New Orleans Saints strong safety Jamarca Sanford (33) dives to tackle him during the fourth quarter in a preseason NFL football game at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated New Orleans Saints 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, I understand that the Saints are reportedly only a little over a quarter of a million dollars in breathing room with their cap space, with deals like linebacker Craig Robertson’s still not “officially” on the books.

Yet, the team is still reported to be in the running to sign free agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley; so some moves are on the horizon for current members of the roster, either in the form of a restructure or the mythical Brees extension that has been prophesied over and over again, is finally about to become true.

Honestly, there are some veterans that could come somewhat “cheap” for the Saints if they were to add them to the safety position due to age, lack of interest so far in free agency, or both.

Topping the list is Cincinnati Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson; who surprisingly hasn’t been picked back up by the Bengals or received any heavy interest, despite being one of the top safeties in the league and a 2015 season where he set a career high in passes defended (14) and interceptions (8).

Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals safety Reggie Nelson (20) runs the ball against Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lance Moore (16) in the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

According to, Nelson only allowed 50% receptions thrown in his coverage area while handing opposing quarterbacks a rating of 61.8, which was fifth overall of safeties who played over 1,000 snaps.

While Nelson is listed as a free safety, he was listed as playing some strong safety in six regular season games as well as in the playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Since joining the Bengals via a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010, Nelson has had at least two interceptions each season with an average of almost four a season since that time.

His durability is very good too; with Nelson has appearing in all 16 games the past two seasons as a starter, and out of 96 total regular season games as a Bengal, he’s only missed three games since 2010.

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Another positive about Nelson is his tackling, where since he became a full-time starter in 2011 he’s had an average of 55.6 solo tackles and only missed an average of 8.4 tackles in the regular season.

A slightly “younger” option also still available would be Philadelphia Eagles and former Giants and Seahawks strong safety Walter Thurmond, who also has spent time at corner during his career.

The only knock with Thurmond would be that he has dealt with injuries in the past, with the most recent being a torn pectoral muscle when he was with the New York Giants in 2014; but played and started all 16 games for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015.

Thurmond had the best year of his career overall with the Eagles and tallied career highs in total tackles (71), sacks (2), safeties (1), forced fumbles (2), and interceptions (3), with coincidentally one of those interceptions being against Saints quarterback Drew Brees which he returned for another career-long 44 yards.

In the Eagles final game of the 2015 season versus the Giants, Thurmond was thought to have had a pick six against Eli Manning, but instead was credited as a fumble recovery that resulted in a defensive touchdown.

The positive as far as Thurmond is concerned is that he has pretty much been stagnant on the market so far in free agency; and the last two deals he has signed have been for one year — which could be enticing for him since the Saints have been issuing out three year deals in free agency to help stretch the dollar.

May 28, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Walter Thurmond (26) during OTA

This would offer Thurmond some security who has admitted that he knows that the next contract he signs could very well be his last considering that at 29 he’s no “spring chicken” anymore.

A possible reason though (and a “red flag” for the Saints), would be that according to Eagles beat writer Les Bowen, the reason there maybe hasn’t been a huge market for Thurmond is that “several people around the Eagles” think that he might be pondering retirement.

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And heaven knows the Saints can’t afford another Champ Bailey, Dan Morgan, or Olin Kreutz-type of signing as they attempt to rebuild the secondary, but Thurmond even mentioned that the next contract or team he will be on is “going to come down to what’s best for me, and the fit.”

The Saints have been said to be (as many have put it) “quietly good”  in free agency and the offseason so far  (our editor Barry Hirstius gave them a B+ so far) and I don’t see that stopping, especially with the safety position if players like Nelson or Thurmond remain on the market.

Barry even compared the Saints’ free agency methods to a “little old lady at the super market using all of her coupons”.

If the Brees extension gets done here sooner rather than later within the next few days, don’t be surprised if the Saints free agency bargain hunting isn’t finished yet……