The entire Saints coaching staff descended upon Baton Rouge for LSU Pro Day, including Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis (who, by the way, I'm convinced has Secret Service and CIA-level technology to get in touch with agents and the who's who in the NFL.) Loomis and company cleared more cap space this week by restructuring DT Broderick Bunkley's contract and saved $2.5 million dollars. The Saints have over $4 million dollars of room with which to work, not including the recently inked deals for safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Champ Bailey.
The big question remaining for Loomis and company is the looming long term contract with tight end Jimmy Graham. "That's a two way street, I think all of us would like to have things done sooner rather than later." said Loomis. He offered no possible time table as to when a deal might be had between the Saints and Graham's camp. "We'll keep at it in the process. Obviously we want Jimmy Graham on our team when training camp begins. We'll keep plugging away at the process" he continued.
I talked to Coach Sean Payton about a number of things at LSU Pro Day, and Payton told me they have a clear vision for Champ Bailey. "I think he brings a great deal of leadership, his instincts, and we believe in his skill set and the way he takes care of himself," Payton said. "He's gonna come in and compete and play at corner." When you look at the money the Saints spent on Champ Bailey it makes even more sense. Bailey will count $1.5 million dollars against the salary cap in 2014. He was given a $500,000 dollar signing bonus. That is smart money!
Listen to my interview with Sean Payton here:
The Saints lost free agent center Brian de la Puente to the Chicago Bears this week and Tim Lelito appears to be the next man up on the roster, at least for the time being. "We'll pay attention to this Draft, but we'll continue to pay attention to any way we can improve our roster. We see Tim as someone that has that potential. There will be competition at that position." Payton said. With the Saints up tight against the cap, I would expect to them to target a veteran in free agency after June 1st. Let's see what they do in the Draft, and who gets released from other teams. Obviously, with Payton's comments, it doesn't appear as though the Saints are ready to just hand the job to Lelito. Lelito started two games last season at guard for Jahri Evans and played well. Lelito landed with New Orleans after going undrafted in 2013 out of Grand Valley State.
The Saints will have a new center in 2014. The Chicago Bears have signed former Saints center Brian de la Puente to a 1 year deal according to the team's website. Brian de la Puente took over the Saints full time starter in 2011. The terms of the contract were not disclosed by Chicago. The Saints have shown a history of not re-signing free agent centers; Jeff Faine Left in free agency in 2008, Jonathan Goodwin in 2011 and now de la Puente in 2014.
The next man up appears to be two-year veteran Tim Lelito. Lelito made the Saints as an undrafted rookie free agent last season out of Grand Valley State. He played the "swing" offensive lineman role as back up at guard and center last season. The Saints might grab a veteran center on the open market, but it appears as though Lelito will get the first crack at the job.
Former Saints Center Jonathan Goodwin is currently a free agent, and he could be an option for New Orleans.
The Atlanta Falcons signed Saints restricted free agent safety Rafael Bush to an offer sheet earlier this week. The deal is 2 years, worth up to $4.5 million dollars per a source I spoke to.
New Orleans has been busy in the last few days, signing safety Marcus Ball and cornerback Champ Bailey. Ironically Bush's career started in Atlanta as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010. The Saints have until April 8th to match the offer from Atlanta. If the Saints choose not to match the offer, the team would not be entitled to any compensation for losing Bush.
Now that we know the numbers the Saints are working with, what should they do? Match the offer, or let Bush go to the dirty birds? Bush's replacement might have already been signed earlier in the week, not to mention the face the Saints can get a player that fills his role in the Draft in May.
The Saints continue to kick the tires on free agents, most notably defensive back Champ Bailey. NFL Analyst Mike Detillier told me "He'll go down as one of the greatest cornerbacks of all time. The problem is, you're getting the 36 year old Champ. What do you want him for?"
What do the Saints want him for? Bailey is an experienced 15 year veteran who's sure to be Pro Football Hall of Famer when he hangs up the cleats. The Saints could use Bailey to add some experience to a very young secondary as a niche player for Rob Ryan's defense. "You're not bringing him to be a starter, you're bringing him into be that nickel cornerback," explains Detillier.
Bailey played in five games last season with the Denver Broncos, hampered by an ankle injury. "He still has some gas left in the tank, I just think at 36, you're asking a lot for him to hold up 16 games as a starter," Detillier says. If the Saints were to ink Bailey, he could come relatively cheap. New Orleans has $2.2 million dollars under the 2014 salary cap. Bailey's veteran minimum contract would be $985,000 on a 1 year deal. That's more than affordable.
I wouldn't hold my breath on the Saints signing Bailey before the NFL Draft in May. It sounds like the Saints are doing their homework on some veteran insurance if they miss out on a prospect or two in the draft. One of the more obvious needs for the Black and Gold is at cornerback. Right now, Keenan Lewis is the starter on one side with Patrick Robinson and Corey White as the two players with the most experience opposite of Lewis.
Its unknown right now if a deal is being worked about, but the Saints don't usually bring players in for a visit unless they intend on working out a deal with them.
Also, the Saints have agreed to terms on 1-year deal with with of their own free agents, linebacker Parys Haralson. Haralson came to the Saints in training camp last year after a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Saints have agreed to terms on a 1-year deal with backup quarterback Luke McCown.
McCown will probably compete with Ryan Griffin for the primary backup quarterback psoition behind Drew Brees. He spent 2013 with the Saints as Drew's understudy.
McCown graduated from Louisiana Tech and was drafted by Cleveland in the 4th round in 2004. He has a career total of 2,035 passing yards, 9 TDs and a passer rating of 68.3. Click here for his full stats
Talking with the media at NFL owner's meetings in Orlando, Saints coach Sean Payton admitted that the moves the team made this season were difficult in an interview with Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. "A number of players that played big parts in our Super Bowl... you get attached to the players you won with, and that made it more difficult," Payton said, adding "that part never gets easy." The Saints off-season moves included the addition of Safety Jairus Byrd and fullback Erik Lorig, along with re-signing tackle Zach Strief.
Payton specifically talked about the decision to trade RB Darren Sproles. "He's as smart of a player as I've ever coached. It really comes down to how long a player has been in the league, and trying to get younger as a team," Payton explained. "Our jobs are to communicate, and teach, and bring these guys in like family, and when a detachment occurs, it's going to be painful and not easy".
Payton had this to say about Jimmy Graham: "We see a clear role for what he does. The only little hitch here is there might be a debate on what position he plays. I expect by training camp he'll be someone we'll be throwing the ball to."
The Saints and Graham are in a bit of a contract stalemate. The Saints exercised their right to place the franchise tag on Graham earlier in the off-season. Graham has until April 22nd to file a grievance with the league as to weather he should classified as a tight end or wide receiver.
Any other NFL team has the opportunity to sign Graham to an offer sheet, but would have to give up two first round picks if the Saints didn't match an offer from another club. Payton said he wasn't that concerned about another team making a run at Graham "I don't know that any team is willing to try and sign him right now until this other issue might be resolved. I think if it were clearer, then another team would have a clearer vision as to what the cost or contract would be."
Payton said of the decision to move part of training camp to Greenbriar, West Virginia, "We're excited, I think it changes the climate a little bit. I think it will be a good change of scenery." Payton eluded to the Saints starting training camp in Greenbriar for the first two weeks, and then coming back to the teams training facility in Metairie for the final two weeks of camp.