Coming into their 2016 Free Agency, the Saints had a familiar vibe surrounding their franchise. They had a need for defense and a want for offense (and maybe a little special teams). Their major positions of need were core positions in the front seven (i.e. nose tackle, LB), although it is presumed that some of those positions can be filled in the draft. The secondary could also use a touch up, although if Keenan Lewis comes back healthy next season they'll find themselves in much better shape.
At 4 PM ET Wednesday, there was the usual chaotic rush. The Houston Texans went on an insane $126 million spending spree, landing the likes of Brock Osweiler (4 years, $72 million), Lamar Miller (4 years, $26 million) and Jeff Allen. The New York Giants also overspent (which they could afford to do, mind you) for defensive end Olivier Vernon, trying to find that magic pass rush that got them two Super Bowls (helped in no small part by Eli Manning). Vernon penned a historic 5 year, $85 million deal. Janoris Jenkins signed for 5 years and $62.5 million, guaranteeing a huge payday for Panthers CB Josh Norman, who's sitting on the sidelines this offseason with a franchise tag hovering over his head.
Setting new position standards has become the norm in free agency, as the latest contract seemingly always sets the market. Some other moves made were the Chargers landing WR Travis Benjamin, the Bears signing LB Danny Trevathan, the Chiefs signing LB Derrick Johnson on for another 3 years and the Steelers supplanting their already potent offense of Ben, Brown, Bell and Bryant with former Charger Ladarius Green.
Lest we forget those within the division. Obviously Charles Johnson took a paycut to stay in Carolina on Tuesday, but the Buccaneers quietly retained Lamar Miller's competition for best back on the market in Doug Martin. The Falcons signed Alex Mack to a deal valued at ~$9.5 million/year, and Matt Schaub finally came full circle back to the team that drafted him. The Falcons have also reportedly offered WR Mohamed Sanu a contract worth $7 million/year, although these reports are not yet confirmed.
The blue chip teams were the Jaguars and the Raiders. The Raiders (potentially illegally, but it's only alleged at this point) landed the golden goose of guard play, Keleche Osemele. LB Bruce Irvin also reached a deal in principle on Tuesday, but the official terms are not yet known. Jacksonville had a slightly bigger day in terms of quantity, adding DT Malik Jackson, S Tashaun Gipson and former Saint Chris Ivory (the latter for a huge 5 year, $32 million deal).
All of this to lead up to the New Orleans Saints, whose major day one splash was . . . Coby Fleener, TE from Indianapolis. The deal is being reported at 5 years for $36 million, which upon first glance feels high, and upon second glance also seems high. Obviously Tight Ends work in the New Orleans system. Benjamin Watson had his best receiving year last year for the Saints, and a guy named Jimmy Graham played the position before he did. This raises the question: Do the Saints just keep finding good players, or are they overspending for players that just thrive in their offense? Perhaps that's disingenuous to Watson's talent, it's definitely disingenuous to Graham's, it just seems odd that a 35 year old Tight End breaks out in his 11th year in the league, in his first year starting for the Saints. Obviously it's too late to really question now, as Fleener is locked up for 5 years, but Jack Tabb and Josh Hill ARE still on the roster.
Otherwise, the Saints played free agency very smart. Most fans will recall the whirlwind of 2015, in which Jimmy Graham was traded within an hour of the deadline and Kenny Stills not long thereafter, and then there was the great debacle of 2014 in which they signed Jairus Byrd to a 6 year $54 million contract, who is yet to perform up to that contract. The jury is still out on these moves, but the immediate results were a pair of 7-9 seasons (and a massive 2014 letdown after many thought the Saints were Super Bowl bound). So this year, the Saints decided to sit back and let the chips fall. There are still many players available, and although fans may love the thrilling moves (imagine how Giants and Texans fans feel right now), it would appear that the Saints have a plan in place. Not only were they quiet in terms of signing players, they didn't even seem to visit with anyone.
Maybe this is just wishful thinking, and the Saints had dozens of FAs slip through their fingers. But the Saints know their needs, they've been talked about to death just like every team. Look at all of the players mentioned above, and look up their contracts. Whether or not the Saints could afford them aside, it is possible that the Saints are learning from past mistakes in terms of signing bloated, day one free agent contracts. Everyone wants to find the one player that will put them over the top, but the Saints appear to bidding their time for setpieces, players that will thrive in a specific role. It will be a slow burn, but it will be interesting to see how the rest of the offseason plays out for the Saints.