Saints Free Agency

Saints Aggressive But Frugal in First Day of Free Agency

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Aug 30, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis before a preseason game against the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 30, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis before a preseason game against the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /
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Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and the New Orleans Saints came roaring out of the gates on the first day of free agency. And importantly, they did so without reaching on contracts.

Th filled some of their greatest needs with solid talent. But they paid honest amounts and kept the bankroll reasonable. That’s the sort of management that will lift the New Orleans Saints out of the NFL’s middle class.

We’re still waiting on contract details for Ted Ginn and Larry Warford. So apologies if I’m jumping the gun at all. But from what we’ve seen with Fairley and Klein, they’ve done a great job.Coming into the offseason,

Coming into the offseason, a few needs stood out: pass rusher, CB, guard, KR, RB, and LB. With Jairus Byrd’s release (which has officially been designated a June-1st release, and thus affords the Saints upwards of $7.5 million in 2017 cap space) and the Brandin Cooks’s impending trade, safety and WR were also positions of concern. That amounts to about seven positions of need, not including KR.

One day into free agency and the Saints have already filled three of those holes. Four, if you consider Fairley part of the solution at pass-rush. And they’ve found their return man.

Nick Fairley:

Nick Fairley’s contract details have a lot of analysts excited.

Most had figured he would price himself out of New Orleans with $8-10+ million per year averages. After all, he led all free agent DTs in sacks and QB pressures, while finishing near the top of the position in tackles. Those are the kinds of stats that get you PAID.

Turns out, Fairley was willing to take a hometown discount. His contract max’s out at $30 million over four years. That’s just a bit over $7 million per year. That lands him as the 14th highest paid DT in the league. Even before his breakout year, that would have been a solid contract. After the season he had last year, it’s a miracle the Saints were able to lock him up for so little.

Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker A.J. Klein (56) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers works out prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker A.J. Klein (56) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers works out prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

A.J. Klein:

Assuming A.J. Klein can lock down the starting MLB spot, he’s on a great deal as well.

Klein’s contract, at face value, is worth $24 million over four years. But the final year of that contract, in which $9 million is due to him, automatically voids in 2020.

That means Klein is on a three-year, $15 million contract. And the Saints have the flexibility to cut him after two with negligible cost to their cap if he doesn’t work out. Klein has only ever been a backup, but there’s been some solid demand for a player of his caliber. If he is indeed starter-material, that’s another great deal.

Ted Ginn Jr.:

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Although we don’t yet have the details on Ginn’s contract, we can safely assume that it’s nothing game-changing. The Saints need more vertical threats on their offense, even if they hold onto Brandin Cooks. And Ginn can provide the return ability that Cooks and the rest of this roster has failed to provide.

Plenty of WRs have already inked big deals in 2017. But at 32, Ginn is not about to break anyone’s bank. His contract won’t exceed $4 million a year. He has a history of drops, isn’t known as a diverse route-runner, and will lose a step before he gains one.

He’s excellent insurance in case the Saints do trade Cooks. Like I mentioned, he’s not known for the complexity of his route-tree. But he can stretch the field with the best of them. And between Snead and Michael Thomas, the Saints have that intermediate stuff sorted.

Larry Warford:

Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford (75) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford (75) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s a chance the Saints had to empty the piggybank for Warford. We’ll wait to see the details, so don’t hold me to that. But after striking out on Kevin Zeitler, the Saints were in desperate waters.

Zeitler inked a 5-year, $60 million contract that averages out to $12 mil a year. There’s no way Warford got that amount. I’d assume he landed something closer to Ronald Leary’s $35 million over four years. But to be honest he probably got more than that.

Warford is a young and emerging talent. Those sorts of players don’t come cheap. With next to no viable OG prospects in the draft class, the Saints needed to land a starter in free agency. And they did. For now, that’s all I’m going to see here.

Pass rush, CB, and the other positions of need

Now, none of these needs directly solve the problems that were most pressing on Saints fans this offseason: a pass rusher and a DB. But the Saints followed a philosophy that should lead them to a solid roster. They focused on positions that they won’t be able to fill in the draft. Specifically with OG, the Saints landed a key cog on their roster that likely would have been inadequately filled if left to draft day.

You still might wish they’d landed Melvin Ingram and A.J. Bouye. I expect they would have thrown the kitchen sink at Ingram. But he was tagged. And anyway, it seems the Saints’ days of splash signings are (thankfully!) in the past.

Resigning Fairley is a big step towards fielding a solid DL. But he’s not the EDGE rusher that the Saints so badly need.

Unfortunately, the Saints simply didn’t have the options in free agency to fill that position. Almost all of the solid talents were tagged by their hometeams. The DE pool behind them was headlined by mediocre talents like Nick Perry and Andre Branch.

There are still some situational pass-rushers out there, as well as solid DEs like Jabaal Sheard. But the way free agency has progressed—the signing of Klein, the lack of explosive pass rushers—all but guarantees that the Saints will use their first round pick on a DE. There are plenty of first-round talents available. So wherever the Saints end up picking, they’ll find someone who can plug and play.

Next: Free Agency Recap

The same holds true for CB, safety, and RB. Sean Payton described each of those positions as being especially deep in this draft class. I expect the Saints will look to add some players at each position before the draft begins either way. But they’re going to bank on finding talent in April.

Stay tuned for our in-depth coverage of each signing. Time to watch some tape!

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