According to Peter King, the Saints have 39 players under contract for next season, with $ 31.69 million free. Let's discuss how to spend that caproom.
Starting with draft talk again, this time spinning forward with a sampling of the opinions on strategies for the Saints, possessors of the 10th-overall pick. I would add that this is a relatively bountiful draft at the cornerback spot. Trading down and banking more picks is certainly always an option.
When asked about draft strategies, Sean Payton said defense is the Saints' focus:
If you look at where we're at and how we're built, it's an area where we feel we can help ourselves and bring some young players or veteran players into that mix. I think it's an area that we want to upgrade and try to address and bring in guys that can help improve that side of the ball.
New Orleans - Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio St.
The Saints have not solved their corner issues, so they try again. This time, they may have found the answer. The history of OSU corners is impressive, and the Saints hope they have the latest addition.
Jenkins is a name paired with the Saints pretty regularly. Most pundits see his name being called somewhere toward middle of the first round.
- Jimmy Smith, Times Picayune:
Figuring the Saints need immediate help in the secondary, at linebacker and at defensive tackle, there are a number of prospects from whom to choose, three who'll be playing in Monday night's BCS championship game at the Superdome.
Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State inside linebacker James Laurinaitis and LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey are the highest-rated players at their respective positions in some early rankings of future NFL players.
Two other corners worth noting are Arizona's Antoine Cason (6-1, 192) and South Florida's Mike Jenkins (6-0, 200). Cason could be projected as an NFL safety, but he has proven he can keep pace with deep-threat receivers and he's physical enough to hang with today's bigger wideouts. Mike Jenkins has good speed and awareness and most important, excels in man coverage.
Laurainitis, 6-3, 240, is taller than Simoneau (6-0, 245), is good in pass coverage, reacts quickly and pursues ball carriers with precise angles. He can afford to get stronger, but is an instinctive player. He's a two-time All-American and winner of the 2007 Butkus Award.
Two Southern California linebackers also are highly regarded, inside linebacker Rey Maualuga (6-2, 251, an underclassman) and outside linebacker Keith Rivers (6-2, 236).
The article continues, talking about defensive tackle help available. Any of these players would certainly suffice, though I lean toward the corner help.
New Orleans Saints -- Terrell Thomas, CB, USC
One of the worst deals of the past off-season was New Orleans signing 5'8" CB Jason David, a restricted free agent from the Colts, to a 4-year/$15.8 million dollar deal. The guy played in the Tampa Two in Indy, but that didn't stop the Saints from forking over big cash in a deal that they figured, rightfully so, the Colts wouldn't match. Often, players from Super Bowl champions get big paydays elsewhere, but when they are put into a system that doesn't suit them well it can be problematic.
The result of the David deal for the Saints is that New Orleans was 30th against the pass in 2007. David looked terrible in man coverage, almost to an embarrassing level. It was been bad enough to make many Saints fans forget about Fred Thomas getting burned bad in 2006. To point, David has missed three full games this year: all Saints wins.
The answer may be Terrell Thomas, a 6'1" 200 pound corner from USC who has both the size, and speed, to make an immediate impact. While OLB might also be a consideration (in particular Thomas' USC teammate Keith Rivers), Sean Peyton brought over OLBs Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita from Dallas in 2006, and I suspect that they'll be held over in the starting OLB spots next year. Also, there will be a wealth of free agent outside linebackers this year, to the point where it could skew the draft.
Wow, pulling no punches on the David signing. Both Thomas and Jenkins are listed at around 6'1".
Spontaneous tangential discussion of the free-agent class:
- Clark Judge, CBS Sportsline.com:
Though some NFL talent scouts label the upcoming free-agent class as nothing more than ordinary, there is extraordinary talent that might be available for the right price. And most of it is on defense.
Asante Samuel, cornerback, New England: When the Patriots signed him to a one-year deal they included a provision that makes it unlikely they would protect him as their franchise player again. OK, then, that means one of two things happens: Either he gains a whopping extension with the Patriots, or he takes the money and runs. A year ago he had a league-best 10 interceptions; this season he has six, tied for second in the AFC. The point is: He's made a name for himself by making plays and shutting down receivers. Cornerbacks are quick to fly off the shelves in free agency, and they usually command top dollar. Samuel, who turns 27 next month, is the best free agent at his position and won't last long -- if, in fact, he makes it to the open market.
Asante Samuel is a really good player. He intercepted six passes without benefit of a training camp. And he's a good cover corner. Plus, with the acrimony between Samuel and the Patriots last season, his return isn't guaranteed. Expect Samuel to seek something like the eight-year, $80 million deal Nate Clements signed last offseason.
Lance Briggs, linebacker, Chicago: Bears' general manager Jerry Angelo recently said he "never shut the door" on Briggs returning to the club and will "wait to see how things play out." The smart money says Briggs doesn't return to Chicago, even though he told the Chicago Tribune's Fred Mitchell he'd be happy to retire as a Bear. Sure, and I'd be happy to live in Fort Wayne. But the question is: What would make him happier?. My guess is that it's a long-term deal somewhere other than Chicago. Briggs' value is in his consistency and his productivity. He had more than 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons, and he'll make it there again this season. If there's a problem for Briggs it's only this: In Chicago he's overshadowed by teammate Brian Urlacher, though it was Briggs, not Urlacher, who was named to this year's Pro Bowl. Good reason: He had a better season.
Briggs would certainly upgrade the linebacking corps. A group of Fujita, Simoneau and Briggs would certainly be productive.
Alan Faneca, guard, Pittsburgh: A five-time All-Pro choice, Faneca almost certainly won't return to Pittsburgh. He pretty much said as much when he reported to camp this summer and refused to talk about an extension. Faneca not only believes he deserves better than what he has in Pittsburgh, but he charged the team with reneging on a promise to take care of him financially if he waited to redo his contract. So Faneca waited, and nothing happened. Now he will wait on everyone else. Faneca is the top offensive lineman in this year's class and one of the top offensive linemen to hit the market in years. At 31, he should have more than a handful of high-caliber seasons left, and durability is never a question with the guy. He hasn't missed a game since 2001.
I'm just throwing this guy out there. He's a left guard, a position the Saints could certainly look to upgrade. He's also a local guy -- LSU, of course. I'd imagine he will try to top Steve Hutchinson's contract from 2006 -- seven years, $49 million.
Marcus Trufant, cornerback, Seattle: His contract will void based on playing time, and that's not good for Seattle. Trufant was the Seahawks' best and most trusted defensive back this season -- and that was reflected by his choice over Charles Woodson to the Pro Bowl. Trufant is having the best of his five NFL seasons, with a three-interception effort against Arizona his most notable achievement. With a career-high seven interceptions, he's second only to San Diego's Antonio Cromartie, but that's only part of the story here. He leads the Seahawks in passes defensed, and his 77 tackles are second to Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Trufant's success comes after he returned to left cornerback, where he started his first two seasons, and after the Seahawks hired Jim Mora as their secondary coach. With Mora's guidance, Trufant is more aggressive, more confident and better. He's more attractive to potential suitors, too.
Perhaps a more sensible financial option than Samuels. He's still a Pro Bowler and won't come cheap.
Albert Haynesworth, defensive tackle, Tennessee: He will be at or near the top of everyone's list for two reasons: 1) Because of the position he plays and 2) because of how he plays it. Haynesworth has been so dominant this year, routinely blowing up opponent after opponent, that he's the leading candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year. He jams the middle. He can rush the passer. He bats down passes. In short, he can do it all. Or, at least, he could this season. "Contract year," is how one GM characterized it. "I'd be careful with him," he said, "because of character issues." Hayesworth, who was suspended five games last season, has been a model citizen, staying out of trouble and producing at an All-Pro level. He has as many sacks (six) as his last three seasons combined and more quarterback pressures (20) than at anytime since his rookie year. Critics wonder if it lasts. All I know is that if I'm the Titans I'd like the opportunity to find out.
Yes, he stomped on Andre Gurode's bare head, but that's just the type of borderline-criminal tenacity and grit this defense needs. Plus, he's a force in the middle.