Saints prove predictable in free agency but what’s next?
By Tony Twillie
We’ve seen this story before as Saints fans, the typical strategy Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis use in free agency. Will it help or hurt the team this year?
The New Orleans Saints are nothing if not predictable when free agency rolls around. No, they aren’t normally the ones to kick the wheels on a 2019 Le’Veon Bell, test drive the new Antonio Brown or shock as they roll up with an Odell Beckham, Jr.
The Saints are those guys who sit pat and wait for the high dollar big name dust to settle and dig deep for value. It’s been the mantra of the staff for the past few seasons. Yes, they’ve been burned on some mid-range reaches: Brandon Browner, some higher dollar misses, Jairus Byrd and Coby Fleener and some affordable wishes like James Laurinaitis.
But the Saints have also hit on plenty of mid-range talent. This has been a theme since the earlier days of the Sean Payton era. Names like Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle come to mind. Picking up a still viable Mike McKenzie. Getting some good years from Darren Sproles. Most recently, signing guys like A.J. Klein. Demario Davis was a top five LB in this league against the run and rushing the QB (referenced in ProFootballFocus.com), but we are getting him for much less than top five money. It’s these moves that have brought the Saints success.
Enter Latavius Murray and Malcom Brown. These two players fit the mold the Saints are known for. When it was evident that the talks with former Saints RB Mark Ingram weren’t progressing as they’d hoped, the Saints quickly made a move to get a running back. Murray is a stark contrast to just about every running back the Saints have had. At 6-foot-3, he’s one of the tallest RBs in the league and taller than pretty much every RB the Saints have featured. He projects strongly as inside zone/outside zone runner, a downhill guy with a decent burst. And the Saints picked him up at a good price.
Brown is one of those guys we will have to keep an eye on. He’s young and has a lot of raw talent. And he’s played with the Patriots, which everyone believes is a key to being good. As well, the Patriots are known as almost like a college team, you keep guys for three to four seasons, then they move on. At the NFL level, it’s move them before you have to pay them bigger money.
The exceptions are the exceptional players, who they might keep around a bit longer. That they were not willing to re-sign Brown might be a sign. Not many guys have tremendous success after leaving New England. Then again, most of them sign splashier deals with teams that aren’t very good otherwise (see: Trey Flowers signs with Detroit). This seems more like they just have a lot of confidence in their other linemen and didn’t want to pay Brown.
While he may not grade out much better than Tyeler Davison, the Saints were desperate for defensive tackle help. Sheldon Rankins will likely not be available for at least half the season, and David Onyemata will likely face a suspension to start the season on marijuana possession charges. With Davison a free agent the Saints have yet to move on, they needed help at this spot. Taylor Stallworth, fresh off his rookie season, looked to be the only person at that position on the roster to open the season.
Brown is also coming in on one of those good deals. Three years at $15 million is not a huge reach for a guy with his resume. It also may have been a move to put pressure on Davison and his people to have his number fall in line. Brown was a first round pick out of Texas who has a couple of rings to his credit already at age 23. Davison was a fifth rounder out of Fresno State.
Also predictable was the method by which the Saints got the money to pay these players. They restructured Drew Brees’ deal, again. Brees’ deals have been kicked down the road before to make room for new players. And the reasoning often seems the same. The Saints are very close to being a championship team and there are just a few pieces missing. Makes perfect sense today. Next season or two when we’re still paying Brees for this season’s moves and his cap hit becomes obtuse, we may have another opinion.