New Orleans Saints fly under radar for sneaky-good free agency, despite cap limits

Nov 8, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Nick Fairley (98) looks on prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Nick Fairley (98) looks on prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Orleans Saints did not have what some might call a sexy free agency, but they did what needed to be done by retaining some of their free agents, filling holes, and adding depth, ultimately paving the way for a clearer picture in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Despite the salary cap hole the New Orleans Saints managed to bury themselves in with questionable contracts and dead money, the team did the unthinkable through management and negotiation.  The ‘Who Dat Nation’ has general manager Mickey Loomis and vice president of football administration Khai Harley to thank for that.

While some want to call the Saints’ acquisitions this offseason “wash-ups” or “busts”, or whatever derogatory thing certain members of the national media and opposing fan bases come up with, the truth is some of these players are upgrades from what the team had a season ago.

Sure, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who spent 2015 with the St. Louis Rams, hasn’t lived up to his expectations as a first-round pick thanks to certain setbacks, but he has yet to empty out his untapped potential onto the football field since taking his talents to the NFL in 2011.

Living in Ndamukong Suh’s shadow for four years in Detroit didn’t make it easy, yet, Fairley was still a productive piece for one of the more consistent run defenses from 2011-14.  The New Orleans Saints just got him for a bargain in hopes he can unleash the fury like he did from 2012-13 when he totaled 69 combined tackled, 11.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles in two seasons — great numbers for a defensive tackle.

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Linebacker James Laurinaitis has also been a hot topic of negative talks.  The Rams cut him in late February along with other veterans before free agency began in early March.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t on the Laurinaitis train when I first heard the New Orleans Saints were hosting him for a free agent visit after he had the worst season of his career.  But that was until he admitted to playing through a painful elbow injury without missing a single game.

Laurinaitis is a true leader, a hard worker, and could be a mentor to some of the younger players, especially Stephone Anthony.  Maybe Laurinaitis can revitalize his career with a new team in a city know for it’s “rebirth.” You never know, he could come in and be a game changer as a true veteran presence on defense, but it’s still uncertain exactly what his role will be.

A popular scenario is giving him play-calling duties in the middle and moving Anthony over to the strong side, which could mean Hau’oli Kikaha becoming more a of a pass-rushing linebacker or defensive end in certain packages, as mentioned by head coach Sean Payton.

Whatever happens, the Saints’ defense should be in a better spot with Laurinaitis now in the picture, as well as the additions of linebacker Craig Robertson (a productive member of the Cleveland Browns for several years) and Nate Stupar, a special teams connoisseur and solid depth presence New Orleans stole from division foe Atlanta Falcons.

As for tight end Coby Fleener, the New Orleans Saints’ first big free agent acquisition who they may have overpaid a tad bit (he could prove that wrong), he’s somebody capable of really opening up more opportunities for that high-powered offense. Fleener possesses everything necessary to be successful in New Orleans’ passing game.

The Saints’ red-zone production dipped a bit in 2015, but the 6-foot-6 Fleener could come in and change that immediately.  Drew Brees’ past chemistry with tight ends gives Fleener the opportunity of a lifetime to display why the Indianapolis Colts used a second-round pick on a tight end.  New Orleans tends to run three tight-end sets, and Fleener mixing with Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui could certainly bode well.

Again, there is nothing sexy about the New Orleans Saints’ offseason this year, but when a lot of people foolishly expected them to do nothing with the little salary cap room they had, the Black and Gold still made all the right moves given their limited resources.  It was a sneaky-good free agency that still isn’t over. You can catch up with all the moves with our 2016 free agent tracker.

Next: New Orleans Saints restructure Cam Jordan, Thomas Morstead

The Saints now have a clearer picture for what they will do in the upcoming NFL Draft.  The team still has quite a bit of improvements to make, but they got a good head start by retaining their free agents and filling holes.