Saints start strong with opening of NFL year
Four signings on Day 1 bring excitement for 2017 season
Thursday opened the NFL’s 2017 year, and after three straight 7-9 seasons, the New Orleans Saints were ready for rebirth. They entered free agency with roughly $30 million in salary cap space, not to mention the No. 11 pick in the draft, and went straight to work on upgrading talent at key positions of need. On Thursday the team made four free agent signings, adding a linebacker, guard, and defensive tackle. Today might see a blockbuster trade of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, as well as additional free agent signings.
The Saints re-signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley and picked up guard Larry Warford, linebacker A.J. Klein, and receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. An added bonus came as none of the team’s free agents signed with another club.
The team still has glaring needs at edge rusher and cornerback. There is talk of a trade – possibly today – with the New England Patriots, swapping cornerback Malcolm Butler for Cooks. Butler, a fourth-year veteran, is a rising star. Word is the restricted free agent will command a deal worth at least $14 million a year. That’s a hefty chunk of change, but the addition of a shutdown corner to stop the passing attack of NFC South opponents, including the past two defending NFC champions Carolina and Atlanta, will do a lot to get the Saints back in position atop the division and conference again.
Cooks, a fourth-year veteran who will become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, is the Saints deep threat, but has seemingly become expendable with the emergence of receivers Michael Thomas and Willie Snead and the signing of Ginn.
If a deal with the Patriots doesn’t come to fruition, the Tennessee Titans may be interested in Cooks. The Saints, this week, supposedly rejected an offer from the Titans to send a first-round pick (No. 18 overall) in a straight up exchange for Cooks, the Saints’ 20th pick in the first round of the 2014 draft. Tennessee has the No. 5 pick (acquired from the Rams for the No. 1 pick in 2016). The teams may still work out a deal for Cooks and a swap of picks up and down the draft board.
The most notable name to visit with the Saints without agreeing to a deal yet is free agent inside linebacker Manti Te’o. A star at Notre Dame, Te’o was a captain of the San Diego Chargers’ defense, but was hobbled by injury. The team may take a stab at him in hopes that he can maintain his health and return to prominence.
Deals and moves are being made in hopes that New Orleans can escape a string of losing seasons and return to Super Bowl contention before 38-year-old, future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees retires.
The Saints have flexibility and are making moves to sign the best available free agents. What they don’t get this week, they can supplement with rookies in the Draft in late April.
Today, Saints fans may hold their heads a little higher and shift their shoulder back in confidence. The team is winning, even if they won’t hit the field until September.