Saints front office magicians find a way to make big free agent contracts work

Saints front office magicians find a way to make big free agent contracts work

Stevan Ridley #22 of the New England Patriots gains yards against the defense of Jairus Byrd #31 of the Buffalo Bills in the 1st quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 12, 2014 at 10:16 AM

OPINION

Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
Email: bhandwerger@wwltv.com | Twitter: @wwltvsports

Mickey Loomis and Khai Harley couldn’t appear to be more opposite to those in the media who occasionally are around them.

Loomis, the Saints general manager, spends his time with his head down, barely taking time to recognize those passing by him as he shuffles from one meeting to the next.

Harley, New Orleans’ director of football administration, smiles a lot and always is happy to say hello, preferring a handshake or a wave before asking how you’re doing.

Together, however, they’re magicians and Tuesday, they came up with their latest trick, signing Jairus Byrd to a long-term contract.

And they did it at a time when few (read: me) believed they’d have enough cap space to make any move, let alone a splashy one, even if that had been their modus operandi lately (see 2012: Grubbs, Ben; Lofton, Curtis; Hawthorne, David; Bunkley, Brodrick).

You’ve heard of Loomis – he’s the Saints the face of the franchise when it comes to signing players and commenting about them to reporters.

Lost in the shuffle of day-to-day public operations is Harley, whose job it is to monitor and maintain the salary cap for New Orleans.

What he did to get Byrd in the fold was nothing short of amazing.

The Saints entered the new league year less than $2.5 million under the salary cap. Byrd, by some accounts, was the top defensive player on the market and agreed to a six-year contract worth a reported $54 million.

Harley found a way to shoehorn in Byrd’s contract.

No doubt we’ll find out today about more cuts and contract restructures and trades.

It’s the business of the NFL.

Still, not every team employs the same strategy, going all-in in free agency and doling out handsome contracts. Most are more conservative, maintaining a cap cushion while paying attention to the examples of bad big contract moves by franchises like Tampa Bay and Oakland.

The Saints, however, at least for the time being, know they’re in a position where the future is now.

Quarterback Drew Brees is around for only so long; he’s 35 and heading into year 14 of his career. Still, he’s a Hall-of-Fame caliber quarterback, one who always will give the offense a shot to be successful.

You have to strike while you’ve got that kind of player on the team.

While the Saints front office won’t publicly say it, the philosophy is to win now with Brees around and do it while the salary cap is expected to continually rise thanks to outsized TV contracts.

Getting Byrd in is just further notice that the Saints won’t stand pat and let the market and NFC South pass them by.

And to do so, magicians must do their work.

Harley and Loomis proved once again Tuesday that they’re the NFL’s version of Penn and Teller.

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