NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -The dust has now settled on the first week of NFL free agency. For the Saints, some old friends said goodbye, while some new faces jumped aboard. Here are my five takes from the eventful week that was.
Take One: Price point policy
Tyrann Mathieu got $14million. Adam Humphries got $9million. Congrats to both of those guys for getting paid. Both were at top of my free agent wish list for the Saints, just not at those prices.
The Saints showed restraint early on as astronomical contracts were dished out to players left and right. Instead, they stayed true to their price points and spent the first few days taking care of their own with Craig Robertson and Wil Lutz. They eventually landed Latavius Murray (more on him later), Malcolm Brown, Nick Easton and Mario Edwards to reasonable deals.
History has shown, at least in the Saints case, these are the types of deals that they have the most success with. Signing other teams’ free agents to record-breaking contracts rarely works in the NFL and it certainly has bitten the Saints before (see Byrd, Jairus).
Take Two: Overcoming Ingram
It depends on which side you believe to truly determine how far apart the Saints and Mark Ingram were on negotiations. It wasn’t just a simple matter of $500K that had been reported. My sources told me the last offer was four years for $17million with $5 million guaranteed. The Ravens guaranteed half of his contract, I’m told. What hastened the Saints exit was not only the demands from Ingram’s camp (believed to be in the $7million range) but also the availability of Latavius Murray.
Murray was a player they pinpointed as a replacement should Ingram leave. At some point the Saints felt like negotiations with Ingram were going nowhere and feared they would lose Murray, who had interest from other clubs. Thus, they struck a deal with Murray and let Ingram walk.
Ingram eventually signed a three-year deal worth $15million with Baltimore. It’s easy to look at the final numbers and say both sides were so close but, I believe, the negotiation process stalled out and the Saints acted elsewhere. I know fans have been concerned about Ingram’s departure. But the truth is, the Saints will be absolutely fine. They’ve lost several skilled position players before and yet their offense never misses a beat.
In Murray’s case, he is a completely different kind of back than Ingram. He is a taller, long-striding type back. I’m curious to see how he blends in.
Take Three: Breaking down Bridgewater
There’s so much to unpack with the Teddy Bridgewater scenario.
First things first, the market just was not there for Bridgewater, which was a surprise to me. Even with the circle back from the Miami Dolphins, the best Bridgewater received was a lukewarm offer.
Second, while it is true for him that his future may be best with the Saints, I’d hold off on the ‘heir apparent to Drew Brees’ talk. It’s far from a guarantee. We know this because the Saints only signed him to a one-year deal. Why would the Saints allow their next franchise quarterback to become a free agent? The answer is because they aren’t completely sold he will be. I think he has a great shot to get there but nothing is set in stone past 2019.
There’s an unknown surrounding Bridgewater that makes his future tricky. Simply put, teams just have not seen him play a lot of meaningful football in a long time. For the record, during his best season in 2015 he threw for over 3231 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also completed 65% of his passes. That Vikings team ranked 31st in passing offense but also had Adrian Peterson rush for over 1400 yards that year. Their young defense was also beginning to flourish as well.
Take Four: Max Unger’s exit
The news of Unger’s retirement may have been surprise outside of the building, but inside there were signs that the Saints knew this could be a possibility. Unger said last season was not up to his standard and his body could not make it through another year. What’s funny is when the big blockbuster trade went down in 2015 for Jimmy Graham, the headliners were Graham and the first round pick the Saints received. Unger was never supposed to be the best player in that deal, but that’s exactly what he became. Graham was fairly pedestrian with Seattle, while Stephone Anthony was a complete bust.
Unger will not be easy to replace. He was rock solid in the middle and led the team in offensive snaps played in 2017 and 2018. The Saints acted quickly to sign his replacement with Nick Easton. The contract is reasonable, but I wouldn’t completely rule out Cameron Tom or Will Clapp in the competition either. Easton only has 17 career starts and most of those were at guard. Plus, he is coming off a neck injury that cost him the 2018 season.
Take Five: Other Observations:
- If I had to pick the top free agent signing for the Saints thus far, I’d go with Malcolm Brown. He is a very underrated player at the position and, in my opinion, an upgrade over Tyeler Davison, who I thought was solid for the Saints.
- Alex Okafor is one of those glue guys that teams hate to see leave. Okafor got a nice contract from Kansas City that the Saints could not match. Kudos to Okafor for battling back and earning that deal. For the Saints, there just aren’t enough quality edge pass-rushers in the NFL and Okafor was one of them. He wasn’t a star, but he was steady and a very good special teams player. Obviously, the Saints have a lot invested in Marcus Davenport and hopefully he takes the next step in year two. But you can never have enough pass rushers and defensive line depth. Okafor checked both boxes.
- The Saints brought in defensive end Ziggy Ansah, a former double-digit sack guy, for a visit. Those guys rarely hit free agency and yet Ansah still has yet to sign with anyone.
- It’s pretty obvious that tight end remains the top priority for the Saints. It’s a weak free agent pool, but the Saints enticed the best of the bunch, Jared Cook, to visit. Cook still has not signed with anyone which is interesting. Hopefully, the Saints can get something done. Regardless of who they get at the position, the Saints should strongly consider drafting a tight end as well.
- Now that the first wave of free agency has cleared, I’m curious if negotiations heat up with Michael Thomas’ extension. I’ve said many times, he should be the Saints’ first $20million non-quarterback.
- P.J. Williams and Davison remain the Saints two biggest free agents that have yet to sign anywhere.