Any offseason directly after the Saints have a fun season are just the best. There’s nothing more enjoyable than believing with just a couple of moves, and $100 million of Tom Benson’s money, the Saints can win another Super Bowl.
So after escaping the wasteland of endless 7-9 seasons, how exactly are the Saints going to operate during free agency in 2018? The key thing to remember about the Saints is they didn’t really change much in how they operated the last two offseasons. They haven’t stopped aggressively chasing premier free agents (Josh Norman, Kevin Zeitler, Malcolm Butler) or pushing cap issues into the future (Drew Brees 2016 contract extension). Just because the Saints couldn’t get those big free agent deals done doesn’t mean they won’t continue to chase the next one. Believing the Saints have committed to some new less aggressive strategy in free agency is believing I’ll no longer drink beer because there is none in my refrigerator.
The Saints processes are the same but the results are much better. Larry Warford was a homerun signing at guard and AJ Klein was nice addition at linebacker. Even less expensive guys like Ted Ginn Jr., Manti T’eo, and Alex Okafor were huge contributors to the Saints 11 win season.
Honestly that’s all we care about anyway right? If the Saints pay some guy 80 million this week and he’s awesome, no one will be saying “It wasn’t such a great move because they really could have got him for $5 million less.”
How many of us even know what Larry Warford makes? Most of us know he’s a really good guard and helps open gigantic holes for Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to run through. On the flip side, the Saints could pay a player in gift cards and if they were awful we’d want those gift cards to be to an abandoned Tower Records. *you know you wish Mickey Loomis paid Brandon Browner in expired gift cards.
Saints GM Mickey Loomis has said throughout his time with the team they value free agency highly and believe it is critical avenue to improve the roster. This year for the first time in a while the Saints actually have significant cap space and depending on Drew Brees’ contract could have enough to do all sorts of wonderfully aggressive things.
Mickey Loomis is probably going to fill Brees’ new contract with ghost years inside voidable years inside optional roster bonuses like a Russian nesting egg and make Brees’ 2018 salary cap number $8. Drew’s 2019 cap number will be $1.5 billion. For Mickey Loomis cap shenanigans are art and this will be his Sistine Chapel.
The Saints even started acquiring players early this year by agreeing to terms with Carolina Panthers safety Kurt Coleman. Lately the Saints free agent strategy mostly involves treating the Carolina Panthers roster as their personal garage sale.
“Why look here, it’s a perfectly good Ted Ginn Jr.! And this AJ Klein is BARELY used! My gosh, we can totally fix up this here Kurt Coleman with a fresh coat of paint and he will replace Kenny Vaccaro just fine!”
If the Saints sign Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei this week, they will have done so much shopping off the Carolina roster the past two years Mickey Loomis will need to apply for some sort of special discount membership card like Costco for any future Panthers purchases. The Saints haven’t imported this many players from one team so quickly since Bum Phillips had a pipeline of ex-Oilers flowing from Houston to New Orleans back in the early 1980s.
The Saints aren’t one player away from the Super Bowl (no team is ever just one player away from winning anything), but they are probably another good offseason from winning a title. So armed with cap space and a roster where nearly all the best players are locked into low cost contracts the next two to three years what will be the Saints plan of attack?
Fix Third Down
The Saints went from the best team on third down in 2015 and 2016 to 19th in third down conversions on offense in 2017. Imagine the Saints offense from 2017 if it was even top five in third down conversions? It’d be a more unstoppable force than Black Panther at the box office. So how will the Saints go about accomplishing this? Jarvis Landry was a hot idea for a few days until the Saints shot that down. Landry would be a great fit but the Saints were never going to give a giant contract and high draft choice to acquire a player who would be the third best receiving option on the roster. Smart teams give money or draft picks for players but never both.
The best solution to the Saints third down problems won’t even require fans to buy a new jersey. It’s time to bring Jimmy Graham back y’all. Is this possibly a terrible idea? 2011 was a LOOONG time ago but the 2017 Saints don’t need 2011 Jimmy Graham. They just need him to catch 75 balls and be dependable on third down. Did you know Jimmy Graham had more conversions on third down in 2017 than every Saints tight end combined? My friend John Sigler of Canal Street Chronicles unearthed the fun stat of Graham having six third down conversions and Saints tight ends combining for five, and if that’s not reason enough for you to support reckless Saints spending, we can’t be friends. Ben Watson was like 786 years old in 2015 and caught 74 passes so 31-year-old Jimmy will be just fine catching passes from Drew Brees.
Brees loved throwing to Jimmy Graham, and if Twitter is any indication of how Saints players feel about Graham, then the Saints should definitely sign him. Also don’t you want to see Jimmy dunk on the goal posts in the Atlanta Falcons new stadium? Of course you do.
There is like a 60 percent chance bringing Jimmy Graham back is a terrible idea but I don’t care. Like investing in Bitcoin or making a Tears for Fears mix tape in sixth grade for that girl I had a crush on; sometimes bad ideas are the ones we love the most.
Fan nostalgia for former Saints players is the best nostalgia.
Malcolm Butler Still Makes Sense Last offseason the Saints were so desperate for a dependable cornerback and nearly traded for New England Patriots all-pro corner Malcolm Butler. They even reportedly agreed to a four year $52 million dollar contract but couldn’t agree with the Patriots on trade compensation so the deal never happened. The Saints went on to draft Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley broke out in his second year, and the defense was suddenly not the worst in the history of everything.
Butler went on to play more snaps than any other Patriot defensive player in 2017 but then not see the field at all in the Super Bowl because of Bill Belichick’s ‘coaching decision’. The Saints still need a corner because teams can never have enough corners in 2018, plus with Lattimore and Crawley playing on low cost rookie contracts, the Saints could easily give Butler now what they were more than willing to pay him last offseason.
In full disclosure I made about 9700 #systemcorner Twitter jokes last offseason because I was in 100 percent support of the Saints trading for Butler. Was Malcolm Butler only good because he played in New England? Is he just a system player? I don’t know. If the Saints sign him I do know he’ll be the second best corner on the roster, and the way Saints corners are always getting hurt the last two years, they could add three more this offseason and I’d approve. I’m not saying I am irrationally committed to the Saints signing Malcolm Butler but I do have custom t-shirts ready to be printed if they close the deal this year.
Will the Saints actually sign these two players? Probably not, but they are definitely going to attempt to fix third down and sign another corner. 90 percent of the fun with Saints free agency is the rampant speculation and arguing over how best to spend Tom Benson’s money. It’s so nice to have a Saints offseason where a Super Bowl seems so close doesn’t it?
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.