Following out disappointing playoff ouster to the San Francisco 49ers, it's safe to say that there will be some changes next year. The Saints have 13 unrestricted free agents, 8 of which are starters on either offense or defense. There's no conceivable way that all of these players can be brought back, and some are even questioning whether or not our "window of opportunity" has closed with this corps of players. It appears more and more likely that the team will also stand to lose several coordinators to other teams as well. Curtis Johnson has accepted the head coaching position at Tulane, Gregg Williams is (almost certainly) joining Jeff Fisher in St. Louis - taking his son with him, and Pete Carmichael Jr. is rumored to be a head coaching candidate for the Miami Dolphins. That's A LOT of turnover for one off season. So, let's make the jump and get a closer look at the player situation.
P.S. There's a poll down at the bottom.
Unrestricted Free Agents (* denotes starter)
- Drew Brees*
- Marques Colston*
- Jo-Lonn Dunbar*
- Aubrayo Franklin*
- Carl Nicks*
- Tracy Porter*
- Shaun Rogers*
- John Kasay*
- Robert Meachem
- Jeff Charleston
- Ramon Humber
- Turk McBride
- Pat McQuistan
Each of these players had a significant role in how our team performed over the course of the season, some more important than others, but each played a part. So, going down the list based on importance, I'll weigh in (as unbiased as possible) on each player and judge their value to the team and whether or not they will be back.
- Drew Brees, QB- In his best season as a pro, and maybe the greatest season by a quarterback ever, Brees almost single-handedly led this team to a third NFC Championship game in seven years. He's established himself as one of the All-Time Greats of the position, and proved to get better as the season went on. He will get paid however much he wants, which might be less than market value so as to save room for other free agents to make another run at the Superbowl. Probability of return: 110%
- Carl Nicks, OL- Carl had an incredible season in which he earned a starting spot on the NFL's All-Pro team. He was a beast in pass protection, and an absolute mammoth in run blocking as he led the revival of the team's running game down the stretch. He's still a young player at just 26, and figures to only improve. He's also been very durable over the course of his career since being drafted out of Nebraska in 2008. This team will always be successful at QB with Brees in the spot, and he figures to be around for at least three more years, so my bet is that Nicks gets serious money to solidify the dominance that is the Saints' offensive line, but there's always the chance that more money elsewhere is the deciding factor. Probability of return: 87%
- Marques Colston, WR- Colston had a brilliant season. He was always there for Brees on passing downs, and unstoppable on 3rd and long plays. He took a beating out there this season though. It's a miracle that he managed to remain healthy after being hung out to dry on many big hits, especially considering his injury history. Even after this brilliant season, Colston was not Brees's favorite target, nor his most explosive, but he understands every facet of the game so well, that he can use his height, mind, and hands to play at an almost elite level. After this though, the Saints would be wise not to overpay. Though the team absolutely wants him back, with Graham, Moore, Sproles, and Henderson all under contract next season, the team will still have an explosive offense. Colston will get bigger offers on the open market and is likely on his way out. Probability of return: 40%
- Robert Meachem, WR- Meachem again showed the fans what he could do as a big play threat. He was not a full time starter, but he made the best of his moments. Don't get me wrong, he did have a penchant for getting lost on the field and dropping some balls, but it's tough to maintain absolute focus on an offense with so many other options. In the end, he's most valuable on this Saints team, and his best chance for money and success likely lies in New Orleans. He's still young (27) and doesn't have any history of significant injuries, so he's a safe bet to see a larger role next season if he returns. Should he return though, it's likely that either Henderson or Colston will be gone. If Colston leaves, it's absolutely vital to get Meachem back. Probability of return: 80%
- Jo-Lonn Dunbar, LB- Dunbar had a heck of a season on defense for the Saints. A career backup, special teamer, and one-time undrafted free agent, he stepped up in a big way for this Saints D. His numbers won't wow you, but he was very strong in run support and played a key role in the tightening of that weak run defense that the team exhibited for the first half of the season. He was a liability in coverage, but he was a valuable and, keyword, versatile player on a defense that saw Jonathan Vilma miss several games with a knee injury. He's not really a starter in this league, but he would challenge to be a top-of-the-line rotational 'backer. Since he's a role player with a niche on this team, he'll certainly be back at a very modest rate, likely as a reserve/special teams player. Probability of return: 99%
- Tracy Porter, CB- Okay, I'll just say it, Porter was Awful this season; notice the capital "A". A shadow of his former self in the Superbowl year, he looked slower, less instinctive, and even less physical than he was last year. He was burnt toast in coverage for most of the season, often being taken advantage of because of the vast cushion he left for receivers (perhaps because of his lost quickness?) who would get large chunks of yards off of underneath routes after shedding his poor, poor tackling. Perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh on him, but if you watched the majority of the big plays that the defense allowed this season, I'm sure you'll see a missed assignment or tackle by number 22 somewhere in there. I feel like he'll want more money than he's worth as a player with rapidly declining skills, thus leaving the team with no other option than to let another team overpay for his services, especially with two capable youngsters in Robinson and Johnny Patrick. Probability of return: 30%
- John Kasay, PK- Kasay came in and had one hell of a season for a guy in his mid forties. He obviously doesn't have quite the leg strength as he did in younger years, but he proved to be a great add after losing Hartley in the pre-season. His return would be a welcome addition to the Saints field goal kicking game, though that depends on if Payton wants to bring Hartley back. This one is a bit up in the air. Probability of return: 50%
- Aubrayo Franklin, DT- Franklin was supposed to be the low-key free agent signing that would be final piece to the Saints Superbowl run. However, what we all saw is what the 49ers saw when they let him walk for so little money. He looked old and slow on the field, and a bit out of position in a 4-3 scheme. He was usually invisible on the field and rarely made any plays of significance. His one year tryout with the club is all but over. Probability of return: 13.5%
- Shaun Rogers, DT- Rogers was another huge disappointment (no pun intended [who am I kidding, puns are always intended]) as a free agent signing at defensive tackle this season. He was once a dominant fixture in the middle of the defensive line, but years of injury and poor workout habits sapped him of his play-making ability. Much like every other DT on our roster, he was largely ineffective, though he did play a role in somewhat turning the run defense around. His tryout, like Franklin's, is likely over. Probability of return: 7.2963%
- Jeff Charleston, Turk McBride, Ramon Humber, and Pat McQuistan- Each of these guys are low-priced, niche players. Charleston is probably gone, but the other three will probably be back. McBride showed some nice stuff early in the season before he went down with nagging injuries, and could prove to be a solid addition to the DE rotation. He stands to improve with more coaching. Probability of return: Unknown
So, that's that. It's time to get the bad taste of the playoff loss out of our mouths and start preparing for next season because right now, that's the only one that matters. Look forward to my next piece on potential cap casualties. Carry on.