The New Orleans Saints have been linked to a few possibly soon-to-be free agents at tight end. But they’d be better off without pursuing a change.
The New Orleans Saints have three starter-caliber players on their roster at tight end. And assuming Michael Hoomanawanui and Josh Hill fully recover from their injuries, they’d do best to stick with these three.
The rumors began after ESPN reporter Mike DiRocco reported that the Jaguars would not resign once-standout tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas spent two seasons with the Jags after breaking out in Denver under Payton Manning. They signed him to a five-year, $46 million contract that marked him as one of the premier TEs in the league.
Unfortunately for the Jags, Thomas never lived up to the hype. DiRocco reports that they failed to use him to his strengths, having him “catching short passes and trying to turn upfield and break tackles when he’s more successful down the field and on seam routes.” Whatever the reason, Thomas has never returned to the dominant receiving threat that he was with Denver. DiRocco’s report seems pretty well-founded, and I expect Thomas will hit the open market soon.
The other name circulating the rumor boards is former Saints TE Jimmy Graham. Reports of his imminent release are much more speculative than substantial. But for the sake of this article, let’s pretend the reports are legitimate.
Even if Jimmy Graham hits the open market, I wouldn’t want the Saints to sign him.
In an ideal world, yes, if I was building a roster I’d happily welcome Graham back to New Orleans. He has great chemistry with Drew Brees, and Sean Payton has shown he knows how to get the best out of Graham.
But this isn’t an ideal world, and the Saints already have serious money tied up at the tight end position.
Signing either Graham or Thomas would mean releasing one of Hoomanawanui, Hill, or Coby Fleener. And despite the fact that Graham and Thomas may be a better for this offense than the aforementioned, they simply don’t have the cap space to excuse such spending.
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Yes, I admit, everyone and their mothers would prefer Graham over Fleener. As far as pass-catching threats go, Fleener has been a disappointment. But the Saints would face over $12 million in dead money if they chose to let Fleener walk. After finally escaping the graveyard that was their dead cap situation, I’d be loath to see them turn around and fall right back into the pit.
The other options are replacing the cheaper Hoomanwanui or Hill with Thomas or Graham. The Saints would only take a dead money hit of $1.6 with Hill’s release, and just $666,000 with Hooman’s.
So you’re thinking, that’s not so bad. And both Graham and Thomas are upgrades over these two.
And yes, that’s true. That’s not so bad. And both are better players than either they’d be replacing. But it’s important to note how different these players are, also. Graham and Thomas are pass-catchers, in the mold of Fleener. Hill and Hooman are, primarily, blockers. And good ones at that.
By all accounts, Graham has improved as a blocker over his years in Seattle. But as with Thomas, he’s still no stud in the department.
And looking back at the money for a second: yes, neither cap hit is too bad.
But with about $8 million annually tied up in Fleener, the Saints don’t have the cap space to excuse spending big on another tight end. Their offense is dominant enough as is. They need that space for defense, or for their offensive line.
And that’s the truth of the matter. If the Saints want to bring Graham back, or bring Thomas here at all, they’d need to set aside at least $6 million in cap this year alone. And that’s about as small of a contract as I can justifiably speculate.
The Saints have bigger needs. If Graham is released, he’ll need to look elsewhere for a new home. Your time in New Orleans was beautiful, Jimmy. But when it’s over, it’s over.