For the first time in nearly two weeks, the Saints have some positive news to jumpstart an offseason that as of late, has sputtered to an embarrassing halt.
Receiver Marques Colston and the Saints agreed to terms on a five-year contract Tuesday, keeping the go-to playmaker in New Orleans instead of allowing him to hit the open free agent market.
Jason LaCanfora of NFL.com has Colston's contract at $40 million with less than half guaranteed.
Colston would have been eligible to test the free agent market at 3 p.m., or a mere three hours after the team and he agreed to a new deal.
“This was important to me, to be back with this team in this situation,” Colston said. “I was not looking to chase free agency; it was more important for me to be back in our program, a program we have been building and a program I believe in.”
The Saints franchise had been reeling lately after the NFL released its report on a three-year investigation into a pay for performance program in early March.
For now, that news goes to the backburner as the Saints start making moves to prevent players from hitting free agency or, eventually, in the free agent market.
Next on the list is All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks, who is mulling a contract the team sent to his agent Ben Dogra late Monday night.
Even without those two, the Saints have a number of unsigned free agents left to do something with. In a year when they’ll be hamstrung during the signing period thanks to being only $6 million under the cap, the next few days could be a bit volatile.
Still unsigned as of noon are linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerback Tracy Porter, receiver Robert Meachem and defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers.
Additionally, role players tight end Tory Humphrey, special teams captain Courtney Roby, offensive tackle Pat McQuistan, defensive back Leigh Torrence and defensive end Jeff Charleston remain without contracts.
Kicker John Kasay also is a free agent, but with Garrett Hartley returning from injured reserve, it would seem unlikely the Saints hand him another contract.
Getting Colston back was big, however. In six seasons with the Saints, he amassed more than 1,000 yards five times. In 2011, he had a near-career year, finishing with 80 catches for 1,143 yards with eight touchdowns.
“Since we drafted Marques in 2006, he’s been everything that we are looking for in a New Orleans Saint as a player and a person,” Loomis said in a statement put out by the team. “His combination of production, work ethic and reliability speaks for itself. He has proudly represented our team both on the field and in the community.”
The Saints found Colston deep in the 2006 draft, a seventh-round pick out of Hofstra who, in his first training camp, didn’t necessarily shine.
But he has since.
He’s one of just seven NFL players to have 1,000 receiving yards in five of his first six seasons and the only New Orleans player ever to have a pair of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Colston needs just 84 catches and three touchdowns to become the franchise leader in those categories and, with eight more touchdowns, would surpass Saints legend Deuce McAllister’s 55 for most ever.
Other free agents
Meachem and Porter are likely to find offers of riches elsewhere once free agency opens this afternoon.
Porter, the hero of the 2010 postseason with critical interceptions of Brett Favre in the NFC championship game and Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl, saw his role with the Saints reduced this past season. Injuries have taken their toll on the fourth-year cornerback; he hasn’t played a full season since coming into the league in 2008.
Meachem, meanwhile, caught 40 passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns this past season. In 62 games with the Saints, he has amassed 2,269 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns on 141 catches.
Dunbar became the Saints’ most versatile linebacker this past season, starting at both strongside and middle linebacker. He filled in for Jonathan Vilma for five games this year, proving his worth to the unity.