The Saints have done all they can to upgrade their roster for the 2017 NFL season, but they aren’t finished preparing for what lies ahead. The team released maligned safety Jairus Byrd at the beginning of free agency with a special post-June 1st designation that gives the Saints more salary cap relief. The $7.8-million in cap savings is expected to be put to good use, with several big contributors and role players looking to secure their future in New Orleans.
That money won’t be available for another month, but it’s good to know who the Saints are interested in re-signing long-term.
Kenny Vaccaro, Safety
Discussions about a potential extension for Kenny Vaccaro aren’t expected until later this summer, I’m told.— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) March 2, 2017
Kenny Vaccaro makes the most sense of the names on this list, thanks as much to his draft status as a former first round pick as the contributions to the defense. Vaccaro played 100-percent of defensive snaps in all but two games last year (92.4-percent against the New York Giants, and 81.5-percent versus the Seattle Seahawks) before waiting out a four-game suspension from testing positive for Adderall.
He’s one of the Saints’ most dynamic defenders in addition to his ironman style of play, placing just behind linebacker Craig Robertson for the team lead in solo tackles per game (4.5). Vaccaro tied Byrd and cornerback Sterling Moore in interceptions (2) while matching reserve linebacker Nathan Stupar and safety Vonn Bell in forced fumbles (2). He’s a rare bright spot on a regularly-bad unit, and deserves an extension.
The good folks at Spotrac.com have made their well-educated guess at a market value contract for Vaccaro, which would pay out $23.2-million over five years (an average annual salary of $4.6-million per year). They modeled this contract after the deals signed by statistically-similar players such as:
- Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward (four years, $22.5-million)
- Kansas City Chiefs safety Ron Parker (five years, $25-million)
- New York Jets safety Marcus Gilchrist (four years, $22-million)
- Tennessee Titans safety Da’Norris Searcy (four years, $23.75-million)
Spotrac.com’s formula goes into more details such as age-adjusted contracts and performance in advanced stats such as quarterback rating allowed into coverage, which you can find in the link provided above. It’s worth acknowledging that the initial projection they came up with for Vaccaro is a big more expensive: five years, $27-million at about $5.4-million per year.
The Saints will be trotting out many new faces on defense this fall, especially in the defensive backfield. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams are likely going to win starting jobs, while Vonn Bell is securing his starting role in his second year as a pro. Cornerback Delvin Breaux is looking to regain his Pro Bowl-caliber 2015 form after an unlucky broken leg took him out of action last year.
We may not even be out of the woods on a potential trade for New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, who ‘badly wanted’ to join the Saints. With so much activity on the back end of the defense, Vaccaro needs to stay in New Orleans to maintain continuity and communication in defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s second year.
Willie Snead IV, Wide Receiver
Loomis won't commit to long-term deal for Willie Snead, but said he doesn't foresee any issues there. Wants Snead around for a long time.— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) April 26, 2017
Willie Snead’s free agency is a weird situation. Because he came into the league as an undrafted player and spent time on practice squads (notably for the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, among other teams) before breaking into New Orleans’ starting lineup, he’s given the rare designation of Exclusive-Rights Free Agent (ERFA).
This means that he has to play out the 2017 season for the Saints on a low-cost tender worth just $615,000. Next spring, Snead can be offered one of more-conventional Restricted Free Agent (RFA) tender options, which are broken down well here by Pro Football Talk. Snead would be eligible to play in 2018 at a higher cost (the most-expensive 2017 tender was $3.91-million) but could negotiate terms with other teams. He then could see Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) status in 2019.
So the Saints could play hardball with Snead much like the Patriots have done with Malcolm Butler, but it’s risky. The Cincinnati Bengals were stingy with wide receiver Andrew Hawkins back in 2014, giving him just a second round-level tender, and lost his services to the cross-state Cleveland Browns.
With so much uncertainty at the wide receiver position, this isn’t a risk the Saints should take with one of the NFL’s best slot receivers; Snead finished 2016 with the fourth-most receiving yards from the slot.
Earlier this offseason I suggested a market-adjusted version of the contract Julian Edelman signed with the Patriots: four years, $17.1-million with $8.9-million guaranteed. This would make Snead one of the NFL’s top 30 receivers in average salary per year, but is probably a lowball offer based off Spotrac.com’s own estimate.
Spotrac’s contract projection for Snead is much more lucrative: $44.7-million paid out over five years, elevating Snead from the 167th-ranked receiver in average annual salary to 18th-highest. The context for this huge payday comes from several comparable players:
- Detroit Lions receiver Marvin Jones (five years, $40-million)
- Detroit Lions receiver Golden Tate (five years, $31-million)
- Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton (five years, $65-million)
- Los Angeles Chargers receiver Travis Benjamin (four years, $24-million)
That’s a lot of resources to shell out for a player the Saints don’t really have to sign long-term until 2019. They effectively control Snead’s future for at least the next two years thanks to his free agency status. So any multi-year contract they offer him would be a sign of good faith and thanks the many positive contributions he’s made.
For his part, Snead has been a model teammate. He’s shown up for every voluntary offseason workout and practice session throughout spring training despite not actually being under contract (he never signed the ERFA tender). In the wake of the Brandin Cooks trade and with emerging superstar Michael Thomas in the second season of a four-year rookie contract, the Saints should lock Snead in for the long haul. Productive on the field, popular in the locker room, and charitable in the community, he’s exactly the kind of guy you want on your squad.