Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
Big news people: Congress and President Obama agreed to raise the debt ceiling so America won’t be getting collection calls from China right as we sit down for dinner.
That hasn’t happened? Oh, you care more about the NFL lockout being over? Of course you do because you have your priorities in order.
I’ll admit I didn’t follow the lockout saga closely. Since the Saints lost in Seattle I’ve written three columns and two of those were about the draft. Lockout news never interested me because I always figured the owners and players would make a deal at the last possible second before a week of preseason games had to be cancelled.
It was easy for owners like the Bengals Mike Brown to threaten to burn down his stadium and not play football until 2015 in April, but once greedy owners were staring at losing $200 million a week for every preseason game missed, NFL owners did what they always do; they took their giant pile of money and went back to their mansions to count it.
If you are mad the lockout ruined the offseason, don’t worry. The NFL is about to make it up to you with a week of insanity we’ve never had.
Teams will soon begin to sign rookies and talk to free agents and draft picks before players report to camp. It will be like the Friday after Thanksgiving of NFL off seasons. Team rosters are like Christmas presents that need to be bought, and now GMs have a very limited shopping window. Like any Black Friday there will be some great deals, regrettable purchases and some shoppers will get trampled at the entrance (Sorry, Al Davis).
If you enjoy teams doing stupid, desperate moves in regular offseasons like me, then this really is the dream scenario.
How often during the offseason do we see a team need a certain position filled and they miss out on their first guy, a week later they miss out again, and then desperation sets in because, “My God it’s the end of March and the draft is coming soon and we HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!”
A recent Saints example of this would be Jason David. He was probably their third or fourth choice to upgrade at corner. They kept striking out in free agency and before you knew it David had a $16 million contract and the Saints had given up a draft pick to boot. Jason is remembered as the guy who gave up 3468 touchdown passes. I didn’t look up that stat but it definitely FELT LIKE 3468 touchdowns. Horrible move, and the Saints have a great front office, so it can happen to any team.
Just imagine a team needs an offensive tackle on Aug. 7. They’ve missed out on free agents like Doug Free of the Cowboys and Matt Light of the Patriots. Suddenly camp starts in and they still don’t have an offensive left tackle.
“Listen Bob, I know I’m just the coach and you’re the GM, but if you don’t sign me a tackle I’m going to have to use a cardboard cutout during the morning practice because it would block better than an actual player.”
“There really isn’t anyone reasonably priced out there.”
“Don’t care. How about Jermon Bushrod of the Saints? He started when they won the Super Bowl.”
“Think he’d take $40 million over four years?”
“Call his agent.”
Don’t think it will happen? Oh it can and it will. Teams have money to spend and not much time to do it. So enjoy the stupidity, but what will the Saints do during what I’ll call ‘Black Friday’ offseason?
Sign Roman Harper and Lance Moore
The disaster in Seattle does seem like five years ago doesn’t it? Harper isn’t elite but Gregg Williams likes him and I don’t think he’ll get a huge offer from another team. I saw some advanced statistic that said only Asante Samuel and Malcolm Jenkins allowed a lower yards-per-pass attempt. He’s not elite but better than most Saints fans realize. If you could only forget his performance in Seattle I know you’d believe me.
Lance Moore is a favorite of Drew Brees and for whatever reason other teams don’t have high views of Saints receivers. Last time Lance Moore and Devery Henderson were free agents they got as many serious contract offers as I did.
Let Reggie Bush walk
Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory make up a perfectly fine set of runners, and even though Reggie won’t get $12 million a year from someone, he’ll probably get at least what the Saints gave Thomas right before the lockout.
I’ve compared the Reggie Bush era to buying a boat. At the time of purchase we were incredibly excited about all the fun we would have, but the reality was like a boat: Reggie was broke too often and cost too much. Still, I’d do it all over again, but the Bush era is over.
Figure out the offensive line
Jermon Bushrod, Carl Nicks, Jonathan Goodwin and Zach Strief will all be free agents (Nicks is restricted).
My guess is everyone returns but Nicks signs a one-year deal so he can hit it big in 2012 free agency. Even though Goodwin is the oldest of the group, if he would sign elsewhere the thought of Brees playing behind a guy (Matt Tennant) who has no NFL starts is not a pleasant thought. Fumbled snaps and the offensive line looking confused in October is something the Saints can avoid by keeping Goodwin.
Shanle stays so the Internet can still hate him and Dave Thomas will start at tight end
Scott Shanle is maybe Saint fans favorite whipping boy. Shanle came to New Orleans in a training camp trade in 2006 and immediately upgraded the linebackers from embarrassing to average. The Saints drafted a couple of linebackers and he may finally be pushed aside but I’m guessing he’s resigned as insurance if they fall to upgrade in free agency.
The Saints will re-sign Dave Thomas and he’ll have more catches than fantasy football favorite Jimmy Graham. How’s that for a bold prediction?
Add veteran defensive line and linebacker help
Cameron Jordan came through the draft but the Saints pass rush was middle of the pack in spite of Gregg Williams blitzing more than any NFL team. A couple of names to keep in mind are Andre Carter of Washington and Shaun Ellis of the New York Jets.
Carter had 10.5 sacks in 2007 when Williams was the Redskins defensive coordinator. Jim Haslett ruined Carter last year by moving him to outside linebacker in the 3-4. He’s 32 and might come at a reduced price. This could be the one time Haslett ruining something could make Saints fans happy.
Another veteran target could be Ellis. He’s 34 but was great in last year’s playoffs. He can play end and tackle. The Saints are in win now mode so adding an older guy or two won’t be an issue. Barry Cofield is a guy the Saints tried to trade for during the 2010 draft but he’s due a huge payday and the Shaun Rogers signing may have filled their need at DT.
If the Saints decide to upgrade at outside linebacker keep Rocky McIntosh of the Redskins in mind. He was a rumored trade target of the Saints last year.
The Saints just cut who?
The Saints will release some guys to create cap space, and the names might surprise us.
Devery Henderson is a possibility while Randall Gay is almost a certainty. Gay missed almost all of 2010, and because the Saints drafted a corner, his $3.5 million salary seems like a very enticing cap cut. Henderson has been mentioned as a cap casualty, but if Robert Meachem gets injured like he usually does, who fills the deep threat roll if Devery is gone? Devery is always my go-to emergency waiver wire pick up in fantasy football when I need a receiver on Sunday morning 15 minutes before kickoff. He’s like a human scratch-off ticket. You usually win nothing but he might drop 3 catches, 125 yards, and a touchdown right in your lap. Don’t you take that from me Mickey Loomis!
Will Smith didn’t live up to his big contract in 2010 and faces a four game suspension, but if the Saints cut Smith their pass rush goes from bad to having opposing quarterbacks call home during passing plays because they’ll have so much time to throw.
The Saints also have to sign all their draft picks and try to do as many of the things listed above before camp starts on Thursday.
The NFL may have killed the regular offseason with the lockout, but they are about to give us the best July/August ever. If you go to lunch and don’t check your phone for an hour you’ll miss a dozen NFL signings. I actually think the Saints won’t be done signing players until after the opening preseason game.
On last thing to keep in mind is that over the last three years only the Raiders have spent more money than the Saints on players when you include salaries and bonus money so I’m not sure how much higher the payroll can go. New Orleans is a small market and the Saints as king of NFL spenders is not a sustainable business model even if we wish it could be. And remember the Drew Brees’ extension will cost at least 120 million. Minimum. Mickey Loomis has a lot to do and my guess is the Saints won’t be huge players in free agency.
The NFL is bulletproof, even after a lockout of 134 days it will come out smelling like a rose. Save your fake outrage over the lockout and your empty threats of breaking up with the NFL. We love football unconditionally and just like me you are happy it’s finally here and you can’t wait for the madness to start.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, or follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough