After the New Orleans Saints heartbreaking 29-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings during the divisional round of the playoffs, the team’s front office turned its attention toward the offseason and most important of all, re-signing Drew Brees.
Recently Brees has said that he expects to return to New Orleans in 2018, but another report states that he won’t take a hometown discount either. As part of the contract extension Brees signed back in 2016, the Saints can not place the franchise tag on him this offseason. This means either the Saints will have to get a deal done with Brees prior to the start of free agency on March 14th or risk exposing him to the open market.
According to Spotrac.com, the market value for Brees is about two years and $50 million dollars. However, a yearly average of $25 million wouldn’t make Brees the highest paid quarterback in the league. I expect him to demand a contract around three years for $82.5 million with $50 million guaranteed. This contract would give him a yearly average of $27.5 million and would make Brees the highest-paid quarterback in the league.
If Brees and the Saints agree to the 3yr/$82.5 million deal, he would have a first-year cap number of about $20.6 million. According to overthecap.com, the Saints have an estimated $32 million in cap space before making any roster cuts or contract restructures. With Brees’ first-year cap number and the money needed to sign their rookie class, the Saints would have only about $3.5 million to spend in free agency.
Besides Brees, the Saints have a handful of other free agents they should have some interest in bringing back. Starting defensive end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro are both set to be unrestricted free agents while Willie Snead will be a restricted free agent.
Good news for the Saints is they have several players they can either cut or restructure to open up cap space. Again according to overthecap.com the Saints can open up just over $7.1 million in cap space by restructuring Terron Armstead’s contract. The Saints can also save $6.4 million in cap space by releasing Coby Fleener with a post-June first designation. With these two moves, the Saints can push their available cap space up to about $17 million.
With last year’s first round pick Ryan Ramczyk playing well as a rookie, the Saints have their bookend tackles for the next several years with him and Armstead. Now longtime Saint, Zach Strief becomes a very expensive “swing tackle”. The Saints can say another $4 million against the cap by releasing or trading Strief. Given the lack of proven offensive tackles currently in the league, the Saints should be able to fetch a mid-round pick for him in a trade.
After trading Strief, the Saints will have about $21 million in cap space and an extra mid-round pick. Thanks to the Alvin Kamara trade last year the Saints don’t have a second round pick in the 2018 draft and could use to add a mid-round pick or two if possible. Trading Strief will be tough, but not as tough as figuring out what to do with Nick Fairley.
Fairly missed all of the 2017 season with a heart condition and reportedly his career is likely over because of it. If the Saints decide to move on from Fairly, they can save $5 million by releasing him with a post-June first designation. With these four moves the Saints can get up to about $26 million dollars in cap space after re-signing Brees.
If Brees plays out his new contract, he will be almost 42 years old when the contract is up. With Brees under contract for three years, the Saints don’t have to panic on drafting a quarterback early in the 2018 NFL draft, but at some point they will need to. Reportedly head coach Sean Payton thinks highly of Baker Mayfield, but without the second round pick it will be hard for the Saints to move up in the draft for a quarterback. However, if a quarterback does fall to them at pick 27 that they love, like it does in my latest mock draft, they should pull the trigger and have their heir apparent to Brees.
Outside of a young quarterback, this Saints team doesn’t have a lot of major needs. The Saints should use the bulk of their picks to continue to add depth at key positions. One spot the team should look at is interior offensive linemen. Starting guard Larry Warford has a high cap number in 2019 could be released saving the team $6.3 million. The other starting guard, Andrus Peat, has only two years left on his rookie contract, including his rookie fifth-year option. Also, starting center Max Unger will turn 32 years old in April and has a potential out in his contract following the 2018 season.
After locking up Brees the Saints can be aggressive in free agency with about $26 million in cap space. They could re-sign some of their own guys or go after upgrades on the market. Of their own free agents, Kenny Vaccaro should be the one given the most priority. Players they could go after in free agency could include Jimmy Graham, Ezekiel Ansah, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trumaine Johnson, and Malcolm Butler.
With very little cap space and a high priority on re-signing Paul Richardson, the Seahawks are likely to let Graham leave in free agency. Would he be interested in returning to New Orleans to form a nice trio in the passing game with Kamara and Michael Thomas? Ansah or Lawrence would give the Saints an upgrade over Okafor and a consistent pass rush threat opposite of Cameron Jordan. Johnson and Butler are both likely to test the free agent market and they would be a nice upgrade over Ken Crawley to pair with Marshon Lattimore.
The overwhelming odds are that Brees is back in New Orleans for the 2018 season, but if he does leave in free agency the Jaguars should be his top destination. The Jaguars can open up $26 million dollars by releasing Blake Bortles and Allen Hurns to sign Brees while still re-signing either Allen Robinson or Marqise Lee. With a great defense, strong running game, and warm weather home games, Brees could be the difference maker to get the Jaguars to the Superbowl next season.
If Brees leaves, the Saints will need to sign a quarterback in free agency or trade for one. Some options could including Alex Smith, Sam Bradford or maybe even Andy Dalton. But the bottom line is simple, if the Saints want to contend for the Superbowl next season they need to have a good offseason, and that is only possible if they can re-sign Brees.