Of the multitude of things Sean Payton will have to deal with when he’s finally given the go-ahead by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to return from suspension, dealing with free agents and the Saints’ salary cap issues is near the top of the list (the top being figuring out the defensive problems).
When the new league year begins at 3 p.m., 10 Saints players will officially count themselves as unrestricted free agents, three will be restricted, two will be exclusive rights players and six others just hope they get roses from general manager Mickey Loomis and Payton.
When all is said and done, the following is how WWLTV.com (read: Handwerger, Bradley) thinks things will shake out for those 21 players. The Saints, mind you, are on the hook for about $140 million against a cap that’s expected to be close to $121 million in 2013. These guesses aren’t for who makes the 2013 final 53-man roster, just those who will be around through offseason workouts.
Big Sed was supposed to be a big get for the Saints in the 2008 draft. New Orleans moved up in a draft day trade for Ellis, giving away its No. 10 and No. 78 pick to New England for No. 7 and No. 164. The only thing Ellis ultimately got the Saints was a four-year stint with Carl Nicks, whom New Orleans took at No. 164.
Ellis finished this past season with 36 tackles and no sacks. The Saints ranked No. 32 against the run, giving up 147.6 yards per game. The former Southern California standout was his best in 2010, his third season in the league and he has gone downhill since.
There’s a good chance that Ellis will be seeking a change of scenery after his stint in New Orleans and it’s likely the Saints will let him go without any fight.
One of the more well-liked players in the locker room, Bushrod is seeking his “big” contract this year. He signed a two-year deal prior to 2011 in an attempt to pump up his stock for this year.
At 28, this is going to be Bushrod’s only shot at landing the contract that could set him up for life.
He’s a better-than-average left tackle and he plays one of the most important positions in the game. But after earning a Pro Bowl berth in 2011, he regressed a little this season, though not as much as some fans would like to think.
Quarterback Drew Brees knows and likes Bushrod and understands how to work with him blocking. Bushrod might test the open market, but when all is said and done, there’s a good chance New Orleans offers him what he desires and he returns.
The man that everyone wants to run off but who has returned for every season since being drafted in 2004 is set to face an open market where a receiver with diminishing skills might not get a lot of love. Henderson finished 2012 with 22 catches for 316 yards and a touchdown, his worst season since his sophomore campaign.
Henderson will be 30 when 2013 begins and has lost a step. He also lost control of his hands this season. Pro Football Focus had him rated as the second-worst receiver in the NFL.
That said, the Saints will be hard-pressed to find a receiver who gives New Orleans what Henderson does. He’s still a threat down the sideline and has the ability to open up things for Joe Morgan on the other side and the other receivers underneath. Coaches still consider him one of the better downfield blockers.
More to the point, there’s no one ready to step up for him should he be gone. He could be willing to extend his career for at least one more season for a reduced price and stay in New Orleans.
Shanle, for years, was the man couldn’t be beaten out for a starting position no matter who the Saints brought in. In 2012, that change midway through the season. Shanle, one of the smartest players on the field, found himself a healthy scratch for the final eight games of the regular season and nine of the final 10.
A 10-year vet, Shanle said during the final week of the season that he thinks he still has some time left in the game and that by sitting the final two months of the season will keep him fresh for the future.
That future won’t be in New Orleans. The Saints, obviously, phased him out beginning with the home Atlanta Falcons game on Nov. 11. His final game was a week earlier against Philadelphia, when he finished with just one tackle.
New Orleans discovered Casillas as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009 and he stepped right in to help the team win a Super Bowl, playing in 11 regular season games and finishing with 20 tackles. But it was preseason a year later when he made play after play against New England that people saw his potential. And then he was injured and hasn’t fully come back to form.
His athleticism meshes well in pass coverage, where Pro Football Focus has him rated as one of the top 15 linebackers.
Casillas will be looking for a starting job elsewhere in the NFL and he’ll likely get a few sniffs. But ultimately he might find that his best landing spot, even if for a shorter contract, will be in New Orleans.
There’s no question that Daniel is looking to spread his wings in the NFL after a three-year tutorship under Drew Brees. Problem is, he hasn’t been given a Matt Flynn-like or Kevin Kolb-like chance to play. It’s hard to imagine teams going off his preseason tape and saying, “Yeah, we’ve got ourselves a ball player.”
Daniel is going to have to wow teams another way and, quite frankly, we’re not sure how. He’ll test the waters, certainly, but with Alex Smith and Michael Vick being available, we can’t imagine anyone truly giving him a spot. He’ll be back in the Big Easy.
The defensive end re-signed with New Orleans for a one-year, $800,000 contract before the 2012 season. He missed four games early with a left ankle sprain and then was a healthy scratch for four of the final eight games. HIs production at defensive end was not what it should have been for him to be considered a success.
The Saints will likely go in another direction this time around, giving Junior Galette and Martez Wilson their shot at making a difference.
It was a bit shocking that Roby returned in the 2012 season after having such a rough 2011, from getting injured late to fumbling balls in the NFC divisional playoff loss to San Francisco. But he came back and proved that he was a valuable member of the Saints team as the special teams captain.
Roby is hard to replace – he knows his role and takes a personal liking to special teams, going 110 percent every play he’s in even though that’s an impossible percentage to hit. He’ll be back in New Orleans.
Mack was signed three times and released twice this season but once he was given a chance, shined brightly. Mack turned into a reliable nickel back and gave the secondary one of its bright moments of the season when he returned an interception of Eli Manning for a touchdown at MetLife Stadium.
The cornerback from Troy University won’t be expensive to keep and it’s hard not see him being around at least as offseason workouts begin.
Humber was all set to take over at middle linebacker in the season opener with Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne appearing to be saddled with injuries. And then it was discovered that Humber was suspended for the first three games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
And that’s the last we’ve heard of Humber. He’s a solid special teams player and he’s cheap. We can’t see other team swooping in after him and, at least while the Saints can have a bloated roster, they’ll keep him around.
Come back Friday for the thoughts on restricted, exclusive rights and waive/restructures.