After Further Review: Five takes from Saints start to free agency

Drew Brees makes his dramatic entrance during a 2019 Saints home game
Drew Brees makes his dramatic entrance during a 2019 Saints home game(Mark LaGrange)
Updated: Mar. 18, 2020 at 8:58 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Take One: Modest approach

As names started flying off the market when the tampering period opened Monday, the Saints showed their normal restraint. They’ve practiced a more prudent approach to free agency in recent years and it’s paid dividends. Players like Jamie Collins, Graham Glasgow, Corey Littleton and Joe Schobert all could have helped fill needs but not at the inflated costs they ended up signing for.

Still, even with that restraint, it’s a little abnormal that in the timespan the Saints have been able to add free agents, they only have one from another team: Malcolm Jenkins. Plus, they’ve only retained two of their own unrestricted free agents: Drew Brees and David Onyemata. They also signed restricted free agent long snapper Zach Wood to a long term deal.

Add it all up and it’s been a pretty modest start to the free agent frenzy for the Saints. Generally, this next stretch is where things pick up.

Take Two: Hometown discount

When the final numbers on Brees came in, he ended up being right as expected with his new contract. At $25 million per season, Brees is now the 14th highest paid quarterback in the NFL. Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garrapolo and Matt Stafford are among the quarterbacks that make significantly more than Brees.

Technically, the $25 million average on this contract takes up a smaller percentage of the salary cap due to the rise from last year to this year’s total cap.

Reports leading up to free agency suggested Brees wasn’t looking to break the bank with his new contract. It turns out, those reports were exactly right.

Take Three: Welcome back, Malcolm

When it comes to players, Sean Payton has two regrets he’s been pretty open about: Rob Ninkovich and Malcolm Jenkins.

When the Saints let Jenkins walk in 2014 and turned to Jairus Byrd, they cited the need for more turnovers. Byrd turned out to be a bust, while Jenkins went on to flourish in Philadelphia.

Payton has never been shy about expressing that regret. On Wednesday, he got a chance to reunite with Jenkins on a four-year deal worth a reported $32 million. Jenkins brings a veteran presence to a group that desperately needs it. The Saints secondary is talented but very young.

Some have expressed concern that this signing means the team is moving on from Vonn Bell, who’s ascending as a player for a guy who’s on the backside of his career. That concern is completely understandable- Bell was at the top of my list for Saints free agents to keep. However, nothing is set in stone yet with Bell. But if he leaves, they still have second-year pro CJ Gardner Johnson, a physical player with better cover skills.

Take Four: Brady shakes up the South

There has not been a team that’s perennially underachieved more than the Tampa Bay Bucs. That roster is consistently loaded with talent. Every year it feels like they’re on the cusp of being great and a team to look out for. Yet every year, they disappoint. The organization as a whole just feels like a scattered and unstable one.

Enter Tom Brady, coming from the most stable organization in the game. He will not let all that talent go to waste. I expect this team to be a force right away in the division. Brees vs. Brady twice next season should be fun to watch for those interested in two of the masters of the art of quarterbacking.

Take Five: Other Observations

  • For the Saints to come to terms with Onyemata first of any of their UFA’s speaks volumes on how much they value him and value depth a position where it’s hard to find depth at. Defensive tackle may be the deepest position on Saints roster.
  • Teddy Bridgewater to Carolina made too much sense. Bridgewater will reconnect with Joe Brady, who was on the Saints staff when Bridgewater arrived in New Orleans in 2018. Brady knows exactly what he’s getting with Bridgewater and will utilize his talents for the Panthers. As for Bridgewater the person, he bet on himself by returning to the Saints last season knowing he would be a backup but having faith it would work out. With his new three-year $60+ million contract, that’s exactly what happened.
  • With Bridgewater going to Carolina, A.J. Klein going to Buffalo and Eli Apple headed to Las Vegas, the Saints may be in line for a compensatory pick or two next year depending on who they add in the next wave of free agency.
  • Taysom Hill was the only restricted free agent the Saints tendered on their roster and the only one in the NFL to get a first round tender. I look for a long term deal to get worked out at some point.
  • Extensions for big name players are part of the reason why the Saints have been rather conservative to start free agency. However, don’t discount how close they are against the cap. The team was able to convince Kiko Alonso and Patrick Robinson to essentially take pay cuts. Plus, they reportedly restructured the contracts of Michael Thomas and Terron Armstead to create the much needed cap space. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is the next logical contract to get adjusted if necessary.
  • One name to monitor on the guard market is Panthers guard Greg Van Roten. I’m told the Saints have had initial discussions with Van Roten’s camp.
  • Speaking of guards, it feels like the market for Andrus Peat has been pretty cold.
  • Still think the Saints will add a veteran linebacker and consider a veteran wide receiver.

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