We continue a series that will likely span the length of the entire New Orleans Saints offseason where we look a key questions the Saints will face at various points of the year - the 2017 NFL Draft, free agency, and the 2017 regular season. We turn to an interesting point of discussion for the Saints’ free agency plans: will the Saints use their cap space to go fill as many holes as they can with mediocre pieces, or will they try to make a big splash or two?
Coming into this year’s free agency period, the New Orleans Saints have approximately $36 million in cap space (according to OvertheCap.com). This amount is still in the bottom-third across the NFL, but compared to years past, this is a whopping figure that General Manager Mickey Loomis surely must be looking forward to spending.
The Saints have general needs of personnel (with varying degrees of importance) in multiple positions: Guard x2, Tackle, Linebacker x2, Defensive End, Defensive Tackle, Cornerback, Back-Up Quarterback, Return Specialist, Back-Up Running Back, and others. Assuming a team can find bona fide starters in the first three rounds of the draft, that still leaves tons of holes that will have to be filled in free agency.
So there are two conflicting approaches: find average players across the board to fill all vacancies (similar to the 2016 free agency approach), or get one or two big-name pieces to fill the most pressing needs and fill the rest out of the free agency “bargain bin” (similar to 2015 and 2014).
In 2016’s free agency, the Saints were able to sign G Jahri Evans, LB Nate Stupar, LB Craig Robertson, and DT Nick Fairley all to relatively cheap contracts, and all who performed above the value the Saints paid for them. Granted, the Saints also made a big splash that year with TE Coby Fleener’s contract and whiffed on the Laurinaitis deal, but the majority of their needs were filled with lower-tier free agents.
In 2015, the Saints only brought in three free agents, two of which were CB Brandon Browner and RB C.J. Spiller, and we remember how they turned out. One year before that in 2014, the Saints signed five free agents, with only two taking chunks out of the salary cap - CB Champ Bailey and S Jairus Byrd.
With cap space freedom that hasn’t been felt in New Orleans in a long while, it will be hard for Mickey Loomis not to be licking his lips with big-name free agents like Panthers DT Kawaan Short, Chargers LB Melvin Ingram and Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul all likely to hit the open market. History seems to show, though, that the Saints have better luck avoiding the top-tier free agents. Even in 2016, with all of the success found in free agents like Nick Fairley, their one big signing (Coby Fleener) was vastly underwhelming considering fan expectations.
That means just because the Saints don’t make big headlines with a monster signing in this year’s free agency, that might end up being for the better.