- Jairus Byrd (S): Six years, $54MM. $18.3MM guaranteed.
- Jimmy Graham (TE): Four years, $40MM. $13MM guaranteed. Received franchise tag, then worked out multiyear deal.
- Zach Strief (OT): Five years, $20MM. $6.4MM guaranteed.
- Erik Lorig (FB): Four years, $4.8MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Rafael Bush (S): Two years, $3.8MM. $850K guaranteed. Matched Falcons’ offer sheet.
- Champ Bailey (DB): Two years, $3.75MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Parys Haralson (OLB): One year, minimum salary benefit. $318K guaranteed.
- Ramon Humber (LB): One year, minimum salary benefit. $300K guaranteed.
- Luke McCown (QB): One year, minimum salary benefit. $200K guaranteed.
- Jonathan Goodwin (C): One year, minimum salary benefit. $125K guaranteed.
- Robert Meachem (WR): One year, minimum salary benefit. $65K guaranteed.
- Shayne Graham (K): One year, minimum salary benefit. $10K guaranteed.
- Keyunta Dawson (DE): One year, minimum salary benefit. $5K guaranteed.
- Brandon Deaderick (DT): One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Isa Abdul-Quddus (S)
- Charles Brown (OT)
- Chris Carr (DB)
- Jed Collins (FB)
- Brian De La Puente (C)
- Jabari Greer (CB): Released
- Roman Harper (S): Released
- Will Herring (OLB)
- Malcolm Jenkins (S)
- Tom Johnson (DL)
- Lance Moore (WR): Released
- Will Smith (DE): Released
- Jonathan Vilma (LB)
Extensions and restructures:
- Pierre Thomas (RB): Extended through 2016. Two years, $4MM. $2.1MM guaranteed. Reduced cap hit for 2014.
- Keenan Lewis (CB): Restructured contract. Reduced 2014-17 base salaries by a total of $5MM in exchange for a $4.4MM signing bonus and increased active roster bonuses in 2015-17. Reduced cap hit for 2014 by $1.2MM.
- Brodrick Bunkley (DT): Restructured contract. Reduced 2014 base salary from $4.4MM to $1.3MM and workout bonus from $100K to $50K in exchange for a guaranteed $300K roster bonus.
- Acquired a fifth-round pick (No. 169) from the Eagles in exchange for Darren Sproles.
- Acquired a first-round pick (No. 20) from the Cardinals in exchange for a first-round pick (No. 27) and a third-round pick (No. 91).
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (1.20): Signed
- Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska (2.58): Signed
- Khairi Fortt, OLB, California (4.126): Signed
- Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama (5.167): Signed
- Ronald Powell, OLB, Florida (5.169): Signed
- Tavon Rooks, OT, Kansas State (6.202): Signed
- Exercised Cameron Jordan‘s fifth-year option for 2015 ($6.969MM).
- Declined Mark Ingram‘s fifth-year option for 2015 ($5.211MM).
- Signed 20 rookie free agents after the draft.
An 11-5 season doesn’t signal a need for big change for most teams, but the bar is set pretty high in New Orleans and the Saints refused to stand pat this offseason. With big upgrades on both sides of the ball, the Saints look to be one of the strongest teams in the NFC.
There were a lot of high-quality safeties available on the open market this offseason but the Saints wanted the very best of the bunch. Jairus Byrd, who ranked No. 3 on Luke Adams’ Top 25 Free Agents list, New Orleans didn’t have a ton of cap room heading into the offseason, but they managed to carve out the space to give Byrd a six-year, $54MM contract. The 27-year-old missed a good chunk of the season with injury but he still wound up with 37 tackles and four interceptions across eleven games and still ranks as one of the league’s premier playmakers at his position. On the flipside, not everyone is applauding the signing, especially since Byrd underwent back surgery to repair a disc issue after inking his deal. Still, if he stays healthy, he figures to give the Saints’ secondary a major punch.
Even though the Saints signed one of the offseason’s very best free agents, the last few months have been dominated by talk about star tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham was franchised by the Saints in late February and was the only player who received the tag and didn’t quickly accept the one-year tender or work out a longer-term deal. That’s because, in part, Graham received the ~$7MM franchise tag for tight ends rather than the $12MM+ he would have earned if he had instead been tagged as a wide receiver. Graham, who lined up split out from the offensive line on two-thirds of his snaps in 2013, went to the mat with his team to get the deal he felt he deserved. He would up losing the case despite the help of the players’ union and strong public support, but in the end he got a deal that makes him the highest-paid tight end in NFL history and should keep him in gold and black for years to come.
Getting back to the secondary, the Saints retained restricted free agent safety Rafael Bush, added cornerback Champ Bailey, and used a second-round pick on corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Longtime Saints safety Roman Harper and cornerback Jabari Greer, meanwhile, were shown the door in an effort to clear cap room and beef up elsewhere. Bush, 26, inked an offer sheet with the rival Falcons but a two-year, $4.5MM deal wasn’t enough to scare them off. Bush would have been a shoe-in to start with the Falcons and reportedly wanted the opportunity prove himself in a larger role but he projects to come off the bench for the Saints behind Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro. Bailey, meanwhile, was picked up a two-year deal with just $500K guaranteed. While he boasts one of the most impressive resumes of any cornerback in the NFL, he appeared in just five games last season for the Broncos due to a foot injury and has lost a step or three. Greg A. Bedard of MMQB recently wrote that it wouldn’t be a shock if Bailey didn’t break camp with the Saints and the club rolled with one of their talented young DBs like undrafted free agent Pierre Warren instead. Bailey was signed to start for this team but he might wind up plying his craft elsewhere by the time Week 1 rolls around.
Looking at the front seven, familiar faces Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma are no longer with the team. Nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley was also a candidate to change uniforms, but he restructured his contract instead in order to stay aboard. His salary this year went from $4.5MM to $1.65MM, creating $2.85MM in cap space. The 30-year-old’s new deal helped to create room for some of the club’s free agent pickups.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints used their first-round pick to add talented receiver Brandin Cooks. What the 5’10 Oregon State product lacks in bulk he more than makes up for with the ability to change direction and eek out extra yards after the catch. While he’s a different kind of receiver, he’ll see a lot of the targets that would have gone to Lance Moore, who is now a member of the Steelers. He should also get some extra looks now that pass-catching tailback Darren Sproles is out of the picture. It was a surprise to some when he was shipped to the Eagles for a fifth-round selection and while it helped ease a glut in the backfield, it does mean that there is one less dangerous weapon in the arsenal for Drew Brees to work with.
Pass-blocking fullback Erik Lorig was added on a four-year, ~$5MM deal which should help Brees gain a bit of extra time in the pocket. More central to Brees’ success will be the continued presence of Zach Strief, who was re-signed to a five-year pact. The 30-year-old has spent the first eight years of his NFL career in New Orleans, including the last three as the club’s starting right tackle. According to Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required), the former seventh-round pick enjoyed his best season in 2013, ranking as the league’s best right tackle and grading especially well as a pass blocker.
The Saints have placed increased emphasis on their secondary in recent years and they continued that push heading into the 2014 season. Assuming Byrd stays healthy, it’s hard not to like this Saints team in the NFC South.