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Third wave of free agency: Saints offer contract to WR Meredith, Bears have chance to match

The path to the draft is paved with veteran-minimum contracts.

TAMPA, FL - Chicago Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith (81) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
TAMPA, FL - Chicago Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith (81) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints haven’t been the explosive player in free agency that we may have hoped for, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. They were the first of three teams to host all-star pass rusher Ndamukong Suh on a free agent visit, but he ultimately joined the Los Angeles Rams after being won over by a night on the town. Jimmy Graham parlayed New Orleans’ interest in a reunion into a better deal with the Green Bay Packers after toiling away for the Seattle Seahawks. The below-market-value contract Drew Brees signed could be considered a big win in free agency’s opening salvo, but let’s be real: he was never leaving New Orleans.

Instead, the Saints stuck to their budget and didn’t let themselves get into any bidding wars. Sure, they handed a sizable guarantee to linebacker Demario Davis ($18-million, sheesh) but were otherwise more-measured in their approach. Only slot cornerback Patrick Robinson, edge defender Alex Okafor, and safety Kurt Coleman are seeing better-than-middling contracts. Camp arm Tom Savage was signed for pennies, just like familiar swing lineman Jermon Bushrod and tight end Benjamin Watson. Free agency’s second wave was adequate, but hardly spectacular.

Now the Saints are looking towards the draft in earnest and filling out their offseason 90-man roster by bringing back some of their own. Yesterday they agreed to a two-year extension with fullback Zach Line (who stepped in and played very well when household name John Kuhn exited with injury) and brought back linebacker Michael Mauti on another one-year deal to compete for reps on special teams.

Guys being signed now are not here to threaten starting jobs or revive a reeling depth chart. By shifting focus onto bringing back more of their own, the Saints have basically signaled that they won’t be looking far afield for more additions.

That’s puzzling when you look at their wide receiver corps. I can’t praise Michael Thomas enough - he’s a stud, a true leading receiver, a Pro Bowler, and so on. But he’s all the Saints have at receiver. Ted Ginn is a nice third wheel who you can’t lean on him to win games. Willie Snead is missing in action.

Outside those three, the Saints don’t have anyone who have shown they can go up and win against NFL cornerbacks. Austin Carr, Tommylee Lewis, Travin Dural, and Josh Huff are a fine collection of hopefuls, but they’ve yet to show they can actually play in the NFL. Thomas, Ginn, and Snead are the only receivers on New Orleans’ 2018 roster who have averaged 30 or more yards per game in their respective careers - and Snead hit rock-bottom last year with a paltry 8.4-yards per game.

It’s why Brandon Coleman re-signing with New Orleans has to be a priority. He hasn’t done it often, but the towering fourth man has shown he can do it when his number is called. Coleman was second on the Saints in wide receiver snaps played last year (651) and made multiple plays as a blocking specialist and occasional third-down target. With so few options on hand, the Saints would be wise to keep Coleman in the fold.

Maybe the Saints like this draft class more than most teams are indicating. That makes sense given its high number of slot specialists and solid number-two prospects. The only free agent receiver they’ve gotten involved with his Chicago Bears standout-on-the-mend Cameron Meredith. The Saints have made an offer to Meredith that the Bears could choose to match, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

UPDATE: NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Saints’ offer for Meredith is a two-year contract worth nearly $10-million, with almost $7-million owed in 2018. The Bears can certainly afford that, the question is whether they will choose to. Stay tuned.

As for other in-house free agents the Saints could bring back? Former first round pick defensive back Kenny Vaccaro has seen little to no interest leaguewide after a history of season-ending injuries, penalty-magnetism, and threat of banned-substance suspension caught up to him. One-time electric cornerback Delvin Breaux has taken a few free agent visits with the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, and has scheduled a future meeting with the Green Bay Packers. The only other noteworthy name in limbo is versatile reserve offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus.

We shouldn’t expect much fanfare between now and the draft. The Saints have finished most of their shopping, and now are working out low-value deals at their convenience.