On the New Orleans Saints:
Life is good when a team drafts as well as the Saints did in 2017. It gets better when your future Hall of Fame quarterback accepts a team-friendly deal enabling a few buys in free agency. The Saints still need pass-rush help and could have a hard time finding a solution with only the 27th and 91st picks in the first three rounds.
Let’s just hope they find similar success in the 2018 NFL Draft...
“You can make a case for the Saints having the best roster in football right now,” an insider said. “It is because they hit on all those rookies last year. They have all these guys signed for cheap and they are all young. It is crazy how different New Orleans’ roster looks in one year.”
Best roster in football? Wow. I’ll take it.
Patrick Robinson of 2017 is a far cry from what he was when he last left the Saints.
“They were a crazy play away from being the NFC Championship Game last year,” an exec said. “They added pieces that will help build on what they had. They were in a good spot.”
Marcus Williams was a goat of the game, but he’s absolutely an essential building block on the Saints roster moving forward.
Some quotes on the Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons haven’t done much in free agency, which should not come as a shock for a team with one of the NFL’s better rosters and big business looming.
”The big thing with them is they need cash moving forward to re-sign Matt Ryan, which is a piece of this,” an insider said. “The biggest potential loss could be the defensive line between [Adrian] Clayborn and [Dontari] Poe. Maybe they hope someone like Da’Ron Payne from Alabama falls to them and then they’ve got their guy.”
Left tackle Jake Matthews is the other veteran Falcons player whose expensive looming contract could be affecting the Falcons’ decisions in free agency.
”Yet, I don’t think they needed to go out and do a bunch of crazy stuff in free agency,” another insider said. “They are fine on offense, and they let some guys go on defense.”
On Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers:
During the past couple seasons, the Panthers have gone from kings of the NFC to arguably the third-best team in their division. This free agency period did not seem to reverse the tide.
A bizarre foot injury requiring a skin graft doomed Carolina’s agreement with former Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland -- this after the Panthers agreed to trade one of their own corners, Daryl Worley, to Philadelphia for receiver Torrey Smith.
”Not getting Breeland might have been a blessing in disguise for them, because even though he is a good player, his play has declined every year for the last three years,” an insider said.
There was much less surprise when All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell departed for $13.3 million per year with Jacksonville, or when starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei accepted $10 million per year from Buffalo. Carolina replaced Lotulelei with Dontari Poe while by trading for Smith and signing Jarius Wright at receiver.
”Their plan is to get younger on the back end, so we could see them focus there in the draft,” an insider said. “They still need another running back. I feel like they still need a receiver. They put all that money into Matt Kalil at left tackle last year, and that was a mistake. So there are question marks on offense, too.”
Not getting [Bashaud] Breeland might have been a blessing in disguise for them, because even though he is a good player, his play has declined every year for the last three years.
And finally on the under-achieving Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
It’s unfortunate that the Buccaneers needed to acquire Jason Pierre-Paul, but fortunate they were able to do so. The desperation move for pass-rush help cost Tampa Bay a third-round pick and generally went over well under the circumstances.
”They could do worse than having JPP,” an evaluator said. “At least they took a stab at it. They got JPP, they got Vinny Curry, so they definitely improved their rush. Now the question is, I don’t know where they go draft-wise. Maybe back to the defensive line.”
The Bucs got deals done with No. 1 receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate. They landed center Ryan Jensen instead of higher-priced line alternatives such as Norwell, which could pay off for Tampa Bay when the team meets Ali Marpet at the negotiating table. On the downside, Jensen has started just one season, so he is less proven.
”If Jensen plays the way he did in Baltimore last year, that deal is a good one,” an insider said. “If you go after an established guy, you just pay so much. Solder and Norwell are great examples. They are not the best tackle and guard in the NFL, but they were just paid that way. Olivier Vernon was not the best defensive end, but when the Giants wanted him on their team, they had to pay him that way. It is just the way free agency is.”
That’s what is nice about Pierre-Paul. He’s a proven player already under contract through 2020, and the Bucs can release him after this season without cap consequences. If that happens, it probably means bad things for Tampa Bay.
”I don’t think they have done anything bad,” an exec said. “It is just how good the older guys play when you could have had picks. You are kind of playing for right now.”