The Saints have agreed to terms on a two year contract with veteran LB Manti Te'o, according to a league source. Te'o entered the league in 2013 as a 2nd round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers out of Notre Dame. The veteran linebacker has missed 26 games with injuries over his four year career, including 12 last season after he tore his Achilles tendon in the third game of the season. This is another depth move by the Saints, adding more LB's to the mix, it starts to make you wonder about the future of former first round draft pick Stephone Anthony, who's had an up-and-down two years in New Orleans.
Malcolm Butler watch has spilled into week two now; and while the two sides (Saints and Butler) are motivated to get a deal done to bring Butler to New Orleans from New England, there are some things that need to happen. First, Butler would have to sign his restricted free agent tender. He has until April 21st to do so. The New England Patriots own his rights as a restricted free agent, and they tendered him at a first round compensation. That means any team that were to sign Butler to an offer sheet would have to surrender a first round pick to the Patriots if New England doesn't match the offer within five days. The thought is that New England would be more than happy to take the Saints No. 11 overall pick in exchange for the offer sheet extended by the Saints to Butler. That's likely not going to happen, though, since the Saints want to hold onto the 11th over all pick.
The Saints want Butler to sign the RFA tender and then trade for him. In exchange, the Saints are willing to part ways with the 32nd overall pick for Butler, the same pick the Saints received as a part of the Brandin Cooks deal. So why hasn't Butler signed his RFA tender with New England if he's motivated to get a deal done? Some of it has to do with leverage with New England, but he and the Saints are still trying to hammer out the guaranteed money in what would be a long term extension. The Saints and Butler's camp have the parameters of a deal in mind, but it could be on hold until the two sides agree on the guaranteed money. Butler is 27 years old and in the prime of his career after entering the league in 2014 as an undrafted rookie from West Alabama. Butler has solidified himself as an all-pro corner and is widely considered one of the best in the game.
The Saints and Butler have mutual interest in one another; however, this one could still take a while to get done. I personally wouldn't be surprised if this spills over into NFL draft weekend. As we talked about last week this is a complicated deal for all parties and deadlines often spur action. April 21st in the deadline for Butler to sign his RFA tender, and the draft is a week later. Shortly afterwards, teams report to rookie mini camp and OTAs.
The Saints will host a free agent visit on Thursday with veteran cornerback Malcolm Butler, who is currently a restricted free agent with the New England Patriots. Butler has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender with New England. The Patriots tendered him at first round compensation level, which means if the Saints sign him to an offer sheet, New England would have five days to match that offer, or accept the Saints No.11 overall pick in return. The Saints and Patriots could also work out their own compensation as well, maybe a second round pick.
Butler is widely considered to be a top 10 cornerback and would be a really good compliment to Delvin Breaux in the secondary. The Saints have targeted CB as a primary area of need since the off-season began, and have tried to get Butler away from New England for over a week now via the Brandin Cooks trade. Is he worth a No. 11 overall pick? I would say yes for sure. A rookie that you draft is an unknown; you're hoping he works out. With Butler, you know what you're getting so I would be fine with the Saints giving up a first rounder for him
The Saints are on to phase two of the free agency process. The big names, by and large, are off the board and have new teams; however, some pretty good players can still be had on the open market. The Saints are exploring the OLB (pass rusher) options in free agency. Over the weekend the Saints hosted veteran LB Manti Te'o, who left New Orleans without a deal. Today, the Saints are visiting with OLB Alex Okafor, who spent his first four seasons in Arizona with the Cardinals. He played through a torn bicep injury in 2016 and registered just 3.5 sacks. In 2014, though, Okafor did rack up 8 sacks. For his career he has 13.5 quarterback take downs.
The Saints have indentified pass rusher as their top priority this off-season. That upgrade will likely have to come via the draft. Pass rushing specialists rarely hit the open market in their prime. Okafor will be in town today for a visit, and we'll see if leads to a contract with the Saints. The Saints still have some salary cap space to make a few moves.
The first day of Free Agency proved productive for the Saints, netting a LB In AJ Klein, OL Larry Warford, WR Ted Ginn Jr, along with retaining one of their own in DT Nick Fairely. General Manager Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton filled some holes and prevented a void with the aforementioned players. We're quickly reaching the stage of free agency where teams can really find great value in free agency and add depth to their roster or find a good value free agent at a pretty productive rate.
Let's take a look at who the Saints could target in the coming days of Free Agency.
LB Manti Te'o: The former Chargers second round pick is visiting New Orleans in the next day or so. Te'o is intriguing on a number of levels. He's coming off a torn achillies tendon, so the price tag automatically drops for a player that seemed like he turned the corner with the Chargers. Each of his four seasons with the Chargers he was plagued by injuries, therefore the production suffered. The Saints are looking for depth at linebacker and on special teams. Te'o could provide that for the right price.
DE/OLB Demarcus Ware: I know what you're thinking. Too old right? Can't have gas left in the tank? At this point in free agency, this what you have to work with. Ware in his prime was one of the premier pass rushers in the league. Ware still has some gas left in the tank in the right role. If you are looking to get 30 snaps a game out of him, this could be a very good move. Ware is 34 years old and likely wants to go to a contender. The Saints would present the opportunity at another post season for Ware. The Saints have had some luck in moves similiar to one that could prevent itself with Ware. Remember Darren Sharper?
DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil: Dumervil, a lot like Ware, is up there in age; but the Saints identified pass rusher as the top need this off-season. There aren't any premier pass rushers on the market, but Dumervil could provide you a nice 2 year option to have in the rotation. Like Ware, if he's not looking for a massive pay day, the Saints should explore bringing Dumervil on board.
DE Jabaal Sheard: Highly productive role player for the Patriots in the last couple of seasons. He could be nice piece to add to the pass rusher tool chest. He's not an every down player, but he is certainly capable of providing insurance in case you don't get a coveted pass rusher in the draft.
CB Sam Shields: The cornerback market cleaned up and broke the bank during the opening salvo of free agency, and the Saints wisely stayed out of the fray. Shields is on the right side of 30 and has plenty of experience.
CB Shareece Wright: While I still think the Saints are looking for possible trades with the Titans or the Patriots, they have to add a veteran corner. You can't count on the starter opposite Delvin Breaux to be an unproven rookie or second year player. P.J. Williams and Damian Swann are interesting prospects but have concussion issues. If you don't consumate a trade with the Patriots for Malcolm Butler, Wright could provide you with a pretty good option.
CB Sterling Moore: Moore would have a better chance of inking with the Saints than Wright or Shields. All three are basically the same player, and Moore has the advantage with some experience in the system. The Saints want to bring him back; but let's face it, if they were truely sold on him, he would have been signed already.
The Saints figure to remain active and aggressive in free agency as we get into the bargain days of the frenzy. The Saints aren't done and are now looking for depth and role players to add to the mix. Don't rule out the Saints looking for offensive help at this point in free agency either. I don't think they'll be looking for skill position players at WR, but perhaps a RB or Right Tackle could be desired.
Warford is a four year veteran player formerly with the Detroit Lions. The Lions drafted Warford in the third round of the 2013 draft out of Kentucky. He has been a consistent starter for the Lions since his arrival.
"That's a good signing, I still think they might bring back Jahri Evans. At this point you still need some back up, and Evans could provide that. I don't think the Saints are done addressing this position. I like the move, though. They needed to get younger at this position, and Warford was a beast the first couple of years in the league," Saints color analyst Deuce McAllister said.
The Saints and defensive tackle Nick Fairley are closing in a four year contract, according to NFL Network. Fairley signed a one year, prove it deal with the Saints last season and posted 6.5 sacks, a career high for the talented big man. He also added 43 combined tackles while playing in all 16 games. The four year contract is expected to bring in some big money for Fairley. This is the right move for the Saints, despite having some trepidation that Fairley just put up these numbers in a contract year. The fact is Fairley is a heck of a player who gives the Saints a nice tandem of big men in the middle with up-and-coming players such as Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison and David Onyemeta. Bringing back Fairley is the right move.
"They should pay Nick Fairley, because what else are they going to do? He was a big part of their run defense, and he provides them with interior pass rushing ability so it makes sense," explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Is Fairley worth the big money? Saints color analyst Duece McAllister says "I think they'll have protection in the contract. It's what the market bares in free agency. It makes a lot of sense bringing him back. The team is going to build in some protection should his production dip in the second year of the contract." The deal is expected to be for four years, but the language and wording in the contract could be team friendly for what really amounts to two years.
And there we go! The New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots have agreed on a trade involving WR Brandin Cooks. The Saints are sending the speedy wide receiver to New England for draft picks. The trade was helped by a move the Saints made on Thursday. New Orleans signed speedster and deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. The Saints have maintained all along that a deal for Cooks would have to be significant.
According to one report, the Saints are sending Cooks and a draft pick and getting two picks back from the Patriots.
TRADE! The Patriots have traded their #32 & 3rd #103 pick to the Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks & their 4th #118 pick per sources
The Saints look like they're taking their usual aggressive approach in free agency. According to a league source, baring any last minute breakdowns, the Saints will sign free agent linebacker AJ Klein. Klein is a four year veteran out of Iowa State taken in the 5th round by the Carolina Panthers. He was largely a role player with the Panthers, but it's an obvious upgrade at a cheaper price for the Saints at defensive end. Klein has 4 career sacks in four seasons with Carolina. Klein also gives the Saints an option at middle linebacker, which is a need. He tweeted about the move, expressing his excitement to join the Saints.
The Saints are raising some eyebrows with this next move. The team will sign WR Ted Ginn Jr according to ESPN, providing no last minute hang ups in negotiations. This move is interesting. Ginn is a deep threat, and the Saints are interested in trading Brandin Cooks. This paves the way for that deal to fall into place. Ginn is a 10 year veteran and has bounced around the league with Dolphins, 49ers and Panthers before this season. The Saints could be adding a little insurance here if a Cooks trade is completed.
Ahead of Free Agency, the Saints continue to add to their coaching staff, hiring Eastern Illinois Defensive Coordinator Michael Hodges as a defensive assistant. Hodges will likely find a role helping linebackers coach Mike Nolan. The team hasn't announced the hire yet, but coachingseach.com first reported the move. Hodges spent time with the Saints at the NFL Combine, he and lists the Saints on his twitter bio (@coachmikehodges). Hodges spent last season as the co-defensive coordinator for Eastern Illinois where Saints head coach Sean Payton went to school. Hodges is thought to be a really bright up and coming coach.
The Saints have begun the free agent process, locking up another player on their roster in WR Brandon Coleman with a one year restricted free agent offer. The deal is for 1 year, and worth $615,000. Teams have until the start of the league year (March 9th) to offer restricted free agents their compensation level. The Saints did the same with WR Willie Snead earlier today; but Snead hasn't signed his yet, hoping for a bigger offer from the team. This is customary practice for Exclusive Rights Free Agent players. As with Coleman, the Saints retain Sneads' negotiating rights; so the advantage is in the team's favor. Coleman arrived to the Saints as an undraftred free agent out of Rutgers in 2014 and played a role in the offense last year mainly as the team's run blocking wide out in heavy formations.
Every off-season Saints coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis sit down and carve a simple but complext list of Wants, Needs, and Musts: What they want to get done in free agency/Draft; What they need to get done; Musts that have to get done.
The duo never discloses the list to the public or the media, but we can all come up with our own lists of wants, needs, and musts for the Saints. Here is my list.
Wants: Some of these items will get repeated throughout this article. A want is simple, what does the team want, but might not be able to accomplish. Well, the Saints have said repeatedly they want a pass rusher, and a cornerback as two of the top needs. I think you could also throw a safety in that want category as well. The team parted ways with veteran Jairus Byrd last week. I think the team also wants a highly skilled returner to give the special teams some juice. I also think that could come in the form of a running back selected at some point during the draft.
Needs: Pardon the redundancy here, but the team needs a pass rusher and offensive lineman. I don't know that they need a corner back, but they want one for sure. In other words, pass rusher and offensive line are the two pressing needs for the Saints. Finding a pass rusher in free agency is really difficult, but the offensive line has some names that are intriguing and could fill the need for New Orleans.
Musts: The Saints must, absolutely must find a pass rusher this off-season. I don't know if that will be in free agency or the draf. I'm thinking more likely the draft. The Saints also must fortify the offensive line at guard on the right side. Jahri Evans was a nice stop gap replacement but isn't the long term solution at this stage of his career. I also think the Saints must address the quarterback of the future. Garret Grayson was drafted two years ago and doesn't look like next guy behind Brees.
NFL free agency begins this week, and the Saints have some decisions to make in particular with a few of their own players. It appears the Saints are willing to let defensive lineman Nick Fairley test the open market. Fairley signed a 1 year "prove it" deal last off-season in New Orleans and posted his best sack total (6.5) of his career. Fairley started all 16 games and was not the off-field concern that he was perhaps unfairley labled prior to arriving in New Orleans. The Saints have expressed interest in bringing Fairley back, but for what price? Fairley could command a salary in excess of over $10 million per year on the open market. Fairley, from nearby Mobile Alabama, loves the proximity of playing in front of his family and friends during home games. The asking price just might be to high for what the Saints likely view as a replaceable commodity.
I think the Saints are willing to let him test the Free Agency waters and hope at a chance to match any offer for Fairley and bring him back.
"It's always important that you keep your core group," Loomis said in an interview with NewOrleansSaints.comâ. "I wouldn't say we have an abundant number, we have some guys we've been in contact with and they know they're wanted. Yet, I understand they're at the point where they wanna see what the market has for them, and hopefully we'll get an opportunity to respond if they get an offer they like"
Loomis has taken this approach with free agents in the past. The Saints will have roughly $30 Million dollars of cap space to work with this off-season. However, the team could have designs on extending Kenny Vaccaro's contract this off-season along with a potential deal with Fairley, not to mention other free agents on the open market from other teams.
"We have to spend wisely and but we're always looking to improve our team," said Loomis. "We have this limited resource pie to divie out and we'll see how it works out."
The Saints found a nice combination along the front four in the interior with Fairley, Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, and David Onyemeta. If the price is right, and I mean under $10 million per season for Fairley, the Saints would be wise to bring him back. The only concern you have is he did it during a contract year and that's always a red flag for a team. Those numbers make teams un-easy and worried that a player might not be as motivated once they cash in on a big contract.
Free Agency officially begins on March 9th, but teams can enter into negotiations on Tuesday March 7th.
The Saints have a little more than $27 million dollars of salary cap space to operate with when free agency starts on March 9th. Teams can begin negotiating with players on March 7th but won't be able to conusmate any deals until the 9th. However, the Saints figure to be pretty significant players on the open market. Saints coach Sean Payton has said numerous times this off-season the team needs to find a pass rusher and would like to add a cornerback during the spring. Payton didn't tip his hand as to whether that will be via free agency or the draft in April.
The Saints history under Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis have been highly aggressive in free agency during their time in New Orleans. The recent results aren't too strong, but early in their tenure the duo was very successful shopping in the tepid waters of free agency. Let's see if they can reverse the downward trend this off-season.
Here are a few names to keep an eye on when the frenzy begins in next week.
A.J Bouye (Cornerback) Houston Texans: He's probably the most talented cover corner on the open market. The Saints have done well in free agency in the past at this position. Keenan Lewis and Jabari Greer are a couple of names that have been good signings for the Saints. Bouye played on the best defense in the NFL last season and could be a benefactor of a great pass rush in Houston, so the Saints will have to be careful and mindful of that when doing their homework on the player. He's going to be one of the highest paid free agents on the open market, so that might keep the Saints at bay.
Kevin Zeitler (Guard) Cincinnati Bengals: With Jahri Evans status up in the air and Zach Strief's age a concern it's time for the Saints to deeply consider rebuilding the right side of the offensive line, and Zeitler is the candidate for that rebuild at guard. Evans was a stop gap player a year ago that played well, but likely not in the 2017 plans.
Dont'a Hightower (Linebacker) New England Patriots: Where do I start? He comes from the Patriots, and we know the Saints love trying to emulate that regime (who wouldn't). Hightower was one of the big playmakers on a New England Defense that was extremely opportunistic, plus it's a position of need for the Saints. I would expect the Saints to make a good run at him.
Nick Fairley (defensive tackle) New Orleans Saints: Fairley had a career season, on a one year prove it deal with the Saints last season, and I hope the Saints bring him back and sign him before free agency starts. However, Fairley might be looking for above market value and that could cause the Saints to look in another direction. Fairley is a valuable member of the front four with he and Sheldon Rankins in the middle giving the Saints a really good inside rush package.
Mike Glennon (quarterback) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What? A quarterback? Yeah the Saints were poised to draft Glennon a few years ago but the Buc's snatched him before the Saints were able to pull the trigger on draft day. Glennon has experience, and has been sitting behind Jameis Winston in Tampa. He could be a really good signing if the Saints plan to move on from Drew Brees after the 2017 season or 2018 season. This could be one of the bigger surprises of the off-season. I think we're all in agreement the team is need of finding the eventual successor to Brees and Glennon could be worth a look.
The Saints are indeed entertaining offers for WR Brandin Cooks as head coach Sean Payton acknowledged today. One league source told me the Eagles are "willing to do what it takes" but I was also reminded by the same league source that the Titans have the most capital to pull off a deal for Cooks. The asking price for Cooks is at least a first round pick, and Payton said it would have to be "something significant". The Eagles are in the mix for sure, but the Titans have ammo.
The logic behind trading him this offseason is that Cooks will become a free agent next offseason and command a salary averaging more than $10 million per season. The Saints could also pick up the club option on his rookie contract, keeping his rights through the 2018 season which would put his price tag at nearly $8 million per season. That's not bad value. After 2018 though, Cooks could command a salary over $13 million per season. That's awfully expensive.
One week ago Saints coach Sean Payton said WR Brandin Cooks will be the on team in 2017, after expressing frustration with his role in the Saints offense last year. ESPN reported this morning the Saints are engaged in trade conversations with the Eagles and Titans involving Cooks. While this is true, the interest is likely more exploratory on the behalf of the Eagles and Titans and wasn't necessarily initiated by the Saints. The Saints will listen to offers for just about any player on the roster but in the case of Cooks it has to be a deal that would really be eye popping for him to be shipped off in a trade.
This is the time of the year when free agency is right around the corner, all kinds of phone calls get made from one team to another exploring the interest in one player or another that never really get off the ground. I don't think a Cooks trade is necessarily in the works or going to get done. However, the Saints did trade what many considered an untouchable player in tight end Jimmy Graham a few years ago so anything is possible. For now though I would encourage Saints fans to exhale a little. The potential trade talks are just that. Often these deals get talked about and never go anywhere.