Saints Free Agency 2011: The Pool of Hope

This is the time of the year when every fan can get excited with their team's potential to improve itself through free agency. We're already a few days underway, and the market is starting to settle a little. The longer a free agent stays on the market, the more his price drops. 

Mickey Loomis is no fool. He's a fair and shrewd negotiator. He spent many years as the "money guy," so he understands how to plan for the salary cap without putting the team's cap in danger in the years to come. Mickey is an aggressive guy, yet many would say the additions we make don't reflect that. I'd argue just the opposite.

Mickey is aggressive in the draft and in acquiring players he knows will fill a need and fit the scheme. Yet he won't make that splash unless they do both. Shaun Rogers was the Saints splash this year. In the past, Loomis practically stole Vilma from the Jets and hasn't shown reluctance in moving up or down the draft board. In free agency, he's gone after guys who'll fit a role they envision for them, but he seldom over-pays for someone new. He tried to get Barry Cofield and Rocky McIntosh last year, but the compensation their teams wanted was too high. He made a huge push for Cullen Jenkins and Brandon MeBane over the last few days, but $5 million a year for five years was too rich for a 3rd DT or DE. 

Yet he did get a role player with starter capability for a great price in Darren Sproles. Recently, he's added Fabian Washington, Turk McBride, and Will Herring. These aren't splashy moves, but they fill out the back half of the roster quite nicely. The team with the best 22 starters isn't the team that wins in February. If Green Bay's Super Bowl win taught us anything, it's the team with the best 53 is the one that goes furthest. A great coaching staff adept at developing players certainly doesn't hurt that cause either.

Anyway, the Saints aren't close to being done in free agency. Expect Loomis to continue to add those bargain bin type free agents who will fill a need and plug a hole while the staff coaches up the younger players to eventually take over. With over 500 free agents and more on the street as teams cut veterans, the market is flooded. Just before the CBA was ratified and teams started making cuts, all 32 teams had a combined $560 million in cap space to sign 500+ free agents. Something has got to give, right?

You are about to see many players signing very short contracts at very low prices because the money is starting to dry up. This is precisely where Loomis chooses to be aggressive and where he makes moves that you won't notice in September, but they'll pay dividends in December and January. I don't know about you, but I'll be glued to Twitter for the next week or two. Sorry wife and children, I'm an addict and I need my fix.

While the Saints have needs, they aren't dire. Consider that one of the biggest priorities the Saints had going into free agency (aside from keeping their own players) was upgrading special teams coverage units and return game. When a team makes a focused and concerted effort first and foremost to improve their coverage units, that tells you they feel pretty confident about what they have on offense and defense.

Without further delay, here are the positions I feel the Saints may still add players and the best or most likely options for the Saints.


NEEDS

Center -- Matt Tennant is rumored to have made great progress, but the Saints still need a solid veteran here. Goodwin wants to stay and I believe Loomis wants to keep him, but at the right price. Hopefully any other team in need of a center keeps Kreutz out of retirement with a nice chunk of change.

1. Jonathan Goodwin -- Probably wants a multi-year contract, and with Tennant waiting in the wings, I'm not sure the Saints are thinking the same.

2. Olin Kreutz -- Maybe one year and a chance to win a Super Bowl is what he's seeking? The Bears offered him $4 million but he wanted $4.5 million. Now he's considering retirement. Maybe he's depressed the market just isn't there for him? He'd be a perfect band-aid while Tennant has a year two to make the leap.

3. Rudy Niswanger -- Serviceable vet with a little versatility, could be had on the cheap.

4. Shaun O'Hara -- Very solid, but injury concerns and high price expectations.

5. Casey Rabach -- Another solid vet in the decline accustomed to good money.

 

Tight End -- I'd argue the Saints actually need two of these. Re-signing David Thomas is a must. The guy is versatile and Payton has many uses for him. He knows the system, plus they traded a draft choice to get him. I believe the Saints will re-sign him -- it's just a matter of time. After that, they could use a 3rd tight end. A great in-line blocker would be what the doctor ordered, especially if he has dependable hands.

1. Dave Thomas -- He knows the system, and they could use him for another 4-5 years.

2. Zach Miller -- Make the splash. Yes, I said it. Get this guy. He's one of the most complete TE's in the game. He can do it all, and has done it all with very little around him for years. He won't hold back Jimmy Graham. Heck, I'll take those two on the field over the wide receiver they'll be keeping off the field. With both in the game, the Saints will be equally efficient at running and passing, and less predictable. And they'd have two TE's who demand bracket coverage. Reggie who?

3. Kevin Boss-- Okay, so maybe the Saints can't afford Zach. Well, this is the poor man's version.

4. Bo Scaife -- He can block very well, just ask Chris Johnson. Oh, and he can catch too.

5. Ben Patrick, Brad Cottam, Daniel Coats -- The bargain bin. There are many older veterans who fit in this category-- too many to list, but can they still run? These young guys still haven't reached their potential ceiling.

 


LUXURY

Offensive Tackle and Offensive Guard-- Zach Strief is the teams swing tackle -- that important game-day roster addition who allows you to carry another position. I think he stays with the Saints because the market is flooded, he knows the system and the culture has changed -- everyone without a Bush-sized ego wants to stay on this team. The staff has high hopes for Charles "Peanut" Brown, but he didn't have the OTA's and off-season in which a year two guy typically makes that big jump; plus he's currently sidelined with a hammy. They also could use a guard with a few years worth of starting under his belt for depth purposes. They currently don't have that guy on the roster.

1. Zach Strief -- See above. I give the Saints 80% chance of keeping him.

2. Max Starks -- Sign him to a one-year deal, low risk high reward.

3. Nick Kaczur -- Another starter who would add quality depth and compete.

4. Justin Smiley -- They don't need a starter at guard, but depth with starting experience would be a great addition because it is something the Saints currently lack.

5. Adam Goldberg, Mark Setterstrom, Corey Proctor, Trai Essex, and many more -- See No. 4. They need to add a bargain priced experienced guard in the event something happens to Carl Nicks or Jahri Evans.

 

Defensive Tackle and Defensive End -- I think Shaun Rogers will make a huge impact. Without Remi Ayodele, the Saints lost quality rotational depth that they'll need to spell Rogers. Anthony Hargrove is a pass rush specialist (translation -- not good enough to start at DE or DT) and I'm not sure they don't lose him to someone else. If the Saints spend money here, it is for a guy who does start or can start if need be. Oh, and their biggest need on defense is someone who generates/brings pressure. That doesn't grow on trees, much less be had at a bargain.

1. Andre Carter -- He's old, I know. But put him in a 4-3, and he'll get to the QB. This is the one guy they can get at an Alex Brown price who will get the job done. Dependable, solid, and an upgrade. He's the perfect starter to play while Cam Jordan gets the mental part of the game down pact. Of all the guys on the list of luxury, he's the guy I want most.

2. Aubrayo Franklin -- Okay, he's played NT in a 3-4 hybrid defense. And he's been very solid, if not a beast. My thought process is that a 4-3 NT has a much easier job than a 3-4 NT, and a longer career. He's no longer responsible for two gapping on every play. Why wouldn't a 3-4 NT want to play in the 4-3? You might argue he'll cost too much. I don't believe he'll get the five year, $25 million contract Brandon MeBane and Cullen Jenkins got. Yet, Franklin is more durable and more consistent (though Jenkins is more versatile). Franklin + Rogers + Ellis would give the Saints the most formidable DT rotation in the NFL. Goalline defense would be stout, and maybe with Will Smith out, Sedrick Ellis could play end in spots.

3. Tommie Harris -- He's moved up my list because the Pats are bringing him in for a workout. He has declined in the past years, but he wouldn't be a starter, therefore, wouldn't command starting money. Low risk, good return by providing solid depth.

4. Antwan Odom -- He was having a career year before injury ended his 2009 season. I didn't follow him closely last year, but I believe his release had more to do with what he was making. It takes two years to come back from a severe injury, so maybe the Saints can catch lightning in the bottle with a one year "prove yourself" deal.

5. Stylez G. White, Raheem Brock, Jarvis Green, Rocky Bernard, Tony Brown, Derek Landri, Frank Okam, Jimmy Kennedy, Anthony Hargrove -- These are more the type of bargains Loomis finds.

 

Outside Linebacker-- The Saints have youth with that dirty word "potential." They could really use starting quality experienced veterans with versatility. Shanle does his job, Casillas is chomping at the bit to do his, but I'm not comfortable going into Week 1 with a starting duo of Shanle at SAM and Casillas at WILL. I'd be more comfortable if they had more competition at OLB. Marez Wilson is making a position change, and doesn't have much time to learn. This is arguably the weakest link on defense.

1. Lofa Tatupu -- Yep, I know, he's an inside linebacker. But I believe he could take over the WILL position and be an instant upgrade (assuming he's recovered for surgery on both knees). I just wonder if the pay cut the Saints would offer would be better than the pay cut Seattle wanted to give him.

2. Rocky McIntosh -- Gregg Williams wanted to get him last year. Mike Detillier confirms the Saints attempted to get him. At 6'2" 239 lbs., I assume he could play SAM or WILL in the Saints defense. The Saints have been rumored to have a contract with his name on it, waiting on the market to settle. Rocky would be a starter, and an upgrade.

3. Manny Lawson, Tully Banta-Cain-- Lawson has pass rush skills, is very athletic, but lacks consistency. If he plays consistent, he's better than Shanle. If not, all the wow plays don't make up for not being where you're supposed to be and doing your job -- pretty much what Shanle does. Banta-Cain can rush the passer as well.

4. Keith Bulluck, Ben Leber -- While he might not be much better than anyone the Saints have, he's as solid as Shanle, and they need guys like that who can start and not be a glaring liability.

5. Channing Crowder, Kirk Morrison -- More solid depth with starting ability.

 

Safety-- The Saints are solid with starters, and while DeAndre McDaniel is a promising prospect, the Saints could use some young depth with starting experience here.

1. Atari Bigby, Donte Whitner, Michael Huff, Ken Hamlin -- The question is price. Half these guys are free safeties, and the other half are strong safeties. None are better than what the Saints currently have. All would be backups on the Saints roster and I don't believe any would be down with that, both in terms of ego and in terms of compensation. Yet I'm not sure they'll all get a chance to start elsewhere, so maybe someone on this list takes a one year contract to be part of a Super Bowl bound team.

2. Sabby Piscitelli -- He's got starting experience, but doesn't have the past acclaim the above guys share. Maybe he's the perfect target to back up Harper on the cheap.

3. Chinedum Ndukwe, Reed Doughty -- Same description as Sabby.

4. Jordan Babineaux, Madieu Williams, Michael Lewis -- They might be liabilities at times, but they could fill in for a few weeks if need be.

5. Darren Sharper, Lawyer Malloy -- He'll be cheap, but he'll also take a roster spot and be a liability in the run game or 1-on-1. He needs the luxury of two cover corners to just roam.

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