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Bottom of the Barrel: Saints Off Season Moves Grade Poorly

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Unsurprisingly the Saints off season moves have not impressed too many. With the limited cap space available the team has made few splash moves. Is the grading a little harsh? Lets discuss below.

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Lets start with the best of the worst:

Pro Football Focus has given the New Orleans Saints off season grade a C-. Let's exam their thinking.

New Orleans Saints

Grade: C-

Key retentions: CB Kyle Wilson, G Tim Lelito

Key additions: TE Coby Fleener, LB James Laurinaitis, LB Nathan Stupar

Key losses: WR Marques Colston, TE Ben Watson, CB Brandon Browner, HB Khiry Robinson, G Jahri Evans

Up against the salary cap, the Saints were forced to move on from a few players, including starters Marques Colston and Jahri Evans. They also moved on from Brandon Browner, but after his penalty-riddled season that left him by far the lowest-graded corner in nine years of PFF grading, his absence could be seen as addition by subtraction.

I think we can all agree the release of Brandon Browner was an addition by subtraction. Being forced to move on from Marques Colston and Jahri Evans was more about age and declining production than the cap. If they had wanted to keep either player cap moves could have been made to keep them on the roster. It was reported that Evans was offered a spot and wouldn't accept a cut in pay.

We all seem to agree that the Saints overspent on Coby Fleener.

After getting a very productive season out of Ben Watson, the Saints decided to go younger by signing Coby Fleener. Fleener should be able to at least replicate Watson's production, if not exceed. However, even in his best season with Andrew Luck, Fleener's receiving grade was nearly equal to Watson's last year with Drew Brees. At over $7 million per year, it seems like an overspend for a team up against the cap and has needs all over the defense.

On the defensive side:

The Saints did attempt to address the linebacker position with the James Laurinaitis and Nathan Stupar signings. Laurinaitis is a well-known player, but he has graded above-average just once in his seven seasons, has always struggled in run defense, and is coming off his first negatively-graded season in coverage. His overall grade ranked 59th out of 60 inside linebackers last year, while he ranked last in run defense. Stupar has played just 271 career snaps, most coming in 2015, but he did earn positive grades in coverage and as a pass-rusher.

They have not updated since we signed Nick Fairly so it is possible our grade would move up to a solid C or C+. I would be fine with either grade. I feel we still have glaring needs to address both on offense and defense. More later. We garnered the worst grading of the NFC South teams. The Falcons earned a B+, the Panthers a B, and the Buccaneers received a B-.

Now let us look at Walter Football's grading:

Walter Football has since updated their grades for the Saints since 3-28-16, where they had given us a F. They now also have us grading a C-. Still comparing us to Matt Millen seems a little harsh.

New Orleans Saints: C- 
Acquired: TE Coby Fleener, DT Nick Fairley, OLB Nathan Stupar, ILB James Laurinaitis. 
Lost: RB Khiry Robinson, WR Marques Colston, TE Ben Watson, G Jahri Evans, DT Kevin Williams, ILB David Hawthorne, CB Brandon Browner. 

The Saints used to be a perennial playoff team, but after two consecutive 7-9 finishes, it's become apparent that they are trending the wrong way. Sean Payton and an aging Drew Brees aren't to blame; the front office has made some poor decisions, and that has continued this offseason. 

New Orleans signed two prominent players this spring, and it overpaid for both of them. Adding James Laurinaitis for nearly $3 million annually was bad, but it pales in comparison to the 5-year, $36 million Coby "butter fingers" Fleener received. That deal alone makes it impossible for New Orleans to earn anything higher than a "C." 

Unfortunately for the Saints, they're getting a Millen. The Laurinaitis and Fleener contracts are abominations, and the team lost a couple of key contributors (Ben Watson, Jahri Evans) in the process. They're one of the true losers of free agency. 

March 28 update: The Saints signed Nick Fairley, so we'll see how much that contract is worth. It could push this grade up to a "D" or C-, but then again, the Josh Hill figures were announced, and they were once again absurd for a tight end. I'll keep this grade at a Millen for now until we discover what the Fairley contract is. 

March 29 update: I've moved up the Saints to a C- from the Millen's Easter Kielbasa Hunt grade I gave them earlier. I love the Nick Fairley signing. However, it still doesn't make up for all of the bad moves New Orleans has made otherwise.

While agreeing they over paid for Fleener, calling the Laurinatis and Fleener contracts abominations is absurd. While Evans was a key contributor, his glory days are in the past now. We do need to address guard somewhere, and with what's left in free agency, it looks like we'll have to depend on the draft. The good new is since we have made these signings we can spend a higher pick on offense.

The experts over at ESPN give the Saints the lowest grade at D+. You can follow their link for the grades on all 32 teams but it requires Insider Access, so I'll post the Saints grade below. free-agency-grades-all-32-nfl-teams

New Orleans Saints

Grade: D-plus

Re-signed: FB Austin Johnson, CB Kyle Wilson, G Senio Kelemete, TEMichael Hoomanawanui, K Kai Forbath, RB Travaris Cadet, QB Luke McCown, S Jamarca Sanford, TE Josh Hill

Signed: TE Coby Fleener, LB Nathan Stupar, LB James Laurinaitis, LB Craig Robertson, DT Nick Fairley, K Josh Scobee

Lost/cut: S Rafael Bush, TE Benjamin Watson, G Jahri Evans, LB David Hawthorne, LB Ramon Humber, WR Seantavius Jones, WR Marques Colston, CB Brandon Browner, RB Khiry Robinson

The Saints need to upgrade their defense, but their big-ticket purchase was for a receiving tight end in Fleener. Coach Sean Payton said the team simply wanted to add another quality player, which was fine, but the Saints remain a flawed team with burdensome salary-cap limitations.

"I do not have a lot of confidence in anything these guys do," Riddick said. "Coby will be Jimmy Graham lite, but beyond that, what did they do?"

Dominik said some of the Saints' moves could become addition by subtraction depending upon how New Orleans fills holes in the draft.

"They are constantly redoing deals and Brees could be the one they redo to create a ton of space," Yates said. "If the Saints were to spend big for something this offseason, I never would have guessed it would have been on Coby Fleener. It feels like the Saints are going about this one year at a time from a cap standpoint. They have also lost veteran leadership."

Besides calling Fleener their "big ticket purchase" they give no thoughts on the other offseason moves. A highly opinionated, uninformed article in my opinion. And they want you to pay extra for this.

Now, as I've said above, I'd give the Saints a C or C+ this off season. Once again strapped by cap limits, they have quietly added parts to the roster that enable them to draft wisely. I could even grade it higher if we had addressed other needs I see as important.  I'm glad we didn't make those splash signings which have fared poorly of late. Browner was a disaster and the jury is still out on Jairus Byrd and C.J. Spiller.  I think we need to address G, DB, as well as a true pass rusher. On the positive side we now have much more flexibility in the draft. Vote in the poll below and as always your comments are welcome.