The New Orleans Saints added a number of solid free agent contributors in 2016. In the process, they may have found a good system for approaching free agency.
The New Orleans Saints under Sean Payton have a history of bad free agent decisions. Far too often they’ve signed the wrong player to huge contracts, or let promising players walk for far too little.
But if 2016 is any indication, they may have found a solid system with which to handle upcoming free agencies.
Article continues below ...
That system is simple: avoid spending big money on single players and splash signings.
In 2016, the Saints made a number of signings among the lower-tier free agent pool. They brought in a group of linebackers, a last-minute series of cornerbacks, and some defensive lineman.
Some of those players didn’t pan out. And that’s inevitable when you’re signing lower-tier players.
James Laurinaitis was slated to start as the MLB, but struggled through the early half of the season. The Saints ultimately let Laurinaitis go in order to free up a roster spot.
And DE Paul Kruger started for the Saints the entire year but was altogether underwhelming as the DE opposite Cam Jordan. I don’t expect him back in 2017.
Former CFL safety Erik Harris looked promising in the preseason and contributed positively on special teams, but tore his knee early in the season and ended up on IR.
And while other players aren’t exactly busts, they didn’t play well enough to warrant high praise or to entrench themselves in the team’s future. Think B.W. Webb and Nate Stupar, both of whom played adequately, but neither of whom jumped off the tape at any point.
But even when some players don’t pan out, some do.
And the beauty of making bunch signings among these bargain-bin players is that, if someone doesn’t work out, it’s no hair off your back. You hit on some, miss on others. The Saints aren’t seriously sweating the $1.2 million they owe to Laurinaitis next year.
The problem with big-name splash signings, in contrast, is that if the player doesn’t work out it’s a huge hit to the salary cap. Jairus Byrd had his best season as a Saints in 2016, but that doesn’t change the fact that Payton and Mickey Loomis likely regret signing him to his huge contract. It’s hindered what they’ve been able to do elsewhere on the roster.
But because they took a different approach in 2016, they were able to bring in a number of players that outplayed their contract, and look poised to contribute heavily the team’s future.
Sterling Moore, Craig Robertson, and Nick Fairley are the prime examples of this. None of these players broke the bank to come to New Orleans, but each played above his pay grade and made up for whatever cap was used on Laurinaitis and company. Even considering the cap hit from these guys that won’t be with the team next year, the Saints won big by hitting on these three.
Fairley, obviously, is a contentious case at the moment. The Saints only signed him to a one-year contract, so they have to make a decision on his future. Nobody played more above their pay grade than Fairley. He was near the top of the league at sacks and tackles for a DT. Much of that he made happen himself. And that only on a $3 million contract.
But while Robertson and Moore may not be as high-profile as Fairley, their impact on the defense is possibly more meaningful. The Saints have Sheldon Rankins waiting in the wings to pick up where Fairley left off, if the team can’t retain him. But Robertson and Moore fill hugely important holes on the defense at MLB and CB, and both came at bargain prices.