New Orleans Saints: 2014 NFL free agency

The New Orleans Saints are considering a familiar option for their vacant center position. They brought in former starter Jonathan Goodwin for a free-agent visit on Wednesday, according to a league source.

There doesn’t appear to be a contract offer in place yet. But Goodwin, 35, would obviously make a lot of sense for New Orleans as a veteran option to compete with second-year pro Tim Lelito.

Goodwin started for the Saints from 2008-2010, making the Pro Bowl and helping them win the Super Bowl in 2009. The 6-foot-3, 318-pounder then left for a more lucrative offer with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 and started every game over the past three years.

But now Goodwin is available again since the 49ers have decided to move on to younger options.

Goodwin has been on the Saints’ radar as an option throughout this offseason. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why they felt comfortable letting their own veteran starter, Brian de la Puente, get away in free agency. The Saints surprisingly didn't put up a fight to keep de la Puente, who signed just a one-year deal worth $795,000 with the Chicago Bears.

The Saints are high on Lelito’s potential, as both coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have mentioned multiple times this offseason. But Lelito is still a raw talent, who was undrafted last year out of Grand Valley State, and his only NFL experience has been at guard so far.

Goodwin would give the Saints a more proven option. And he would obviously fit seamlessly into both the offense and the locker room. His experience over the past three years with one of the best and most sophisticated rushing offenses in the NFL won’t hurt his case, either.
The New Orleans Saints’ first gamble didn’t pay off. They hoped to retain restricted-free-agent safety Rafael Bush at a discount rate of $1.4 million.

But then the division-rival Atlanta Falcons swooped in and tried to steal Bush away from them. And that was a risk the Saints weren’t willing to take.

Bush
The Saints matched Atlanta’s offer for Bush (reportedly worth up to $4.5 million over two years). Even though the Saints are tight on salary-cap space, they figured losing Bush to the Falcons was the kind of double whammy they couldn’t afford.

Bush, 26, is a player on the rise. And he was starting to establish himself as a bruising hitter in the open field by the end of last season.

Now New Orleans is suddenly loaded with depth in the secondary -- and the Falcons are still searching for a starting safety.

As for Bush, he admitted to The Advocate’s Ramon Antonio Vargas that he was attracted to the opportunity in Atlanta, but only because the Falcons were offering more money and a better opportunity for a starting job.

Now that the Saints stepped up and showed him how much they value him, he insisted he’s still fired up about staying in NOLA – even if it’s in a No. 3 safety role alongside starters Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro.

“This team is going to make some big noise. I’m excited,” said Bush, who told The Advocate that he’s glad the offer sheet affair is done so he can focus again on being the player Saints coaches want him to be.

Bush also said he was prepared for some backlash from the passionate Saints’ fan base since he flirted with the enemy. But Bush said he was making the best decision for himself and his family.

“It’s never personal,” Bush said. “Players are looking for the well-being of their families.”

Saints fans shouldn’t be too hard on Bush. He couldn’t pass up the chance to virtually double his annual salary. And he earned this salary through his impressive play on both defense and special teams over the past two years.

The Saints probably should have just gone ahead and tendered Bush at a higher level in the first place (a one-year, $2.2 million offer would have required a team to give up a second-round draft choice to steal him away).

But the Saints didn’t really lose money in the deal, since that’s now Bush’s average salary over two years.

As for how they can find the cap space to fit Bush and recently-signed cornerback Champ Bailey, they can make it work. It’s possible they won’t even have to release or restructure any deals to make them both fit (depending on how the contracts are structured).

But if they do have to make another move, they will. As we’ve chronicled many times this offseason, the Saints have been more willing than any team in the NFL to push their cap costs into future years. The Saints will eventually have to pay those bills, but they figure they can catch up whenever quarterback Drew Brees retires.
After another flurry of activity to end this past week, now seems like a good time to rehash all of the New Orleans Saints’ comings and goings in free agency this offseason.

The Saints have added four new players, with safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Champ Bailey as the headliners.

They re-signed seven of their own free agents, including starting right tackle Zach Strief and part-time starting linebacker Parys Haralson. They also placed the franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham.

And they’ve parted ways with at least 12 players -- a list that includes offensive starters running back Darren Sproles, receiver Lance Moore and now center Brian de la Puente, who agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bears on Sunday. That list will grow to 13 if the Saints don’t match the offer sheet that restricted free agent safety Rafael Bush signed last week with the Atlanta Falcons.

All told, it’s hard to say whether the Saints were “winners” or “losers” in free agency this year. But it’s clear that they had an aggressive plan to release some longtime veterans and invest in other areas. Everyone they’ve lost so far has been by choice.

New Orleans’ surging defense got even better, and the Byrd signing should have the biggest impact of any move the Saints made this offseason.

However, if the offense didn’t get worse, it’s at least now loaded with question marks.

The Saints will need a number of new players to step up in key roles. The loss of Sproles will probably hurt the most --though the Saints’ depth at running back obviously made them feel comfortable enough to trade him to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here’s the full list of moves:

Added:
S Jairus Byrd (formerly with Buffalo Bills)
CB Champ Bailey (Denver Broncos)
FB Erik Lorig (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
S Marcus Ball (CFL’s Toronto Argonauts)

Re-signed:
RT Zach Strief
LB Parys Haralson
LB Ramon Humber
OLB Keyunta Dawson
QB Luke McCown
WR Joe Morgan
K Shayne Graham

Lost:
RB Darren Sproles (traded to Philadelphia Eagles)
S Malcolm Jenkins (signed with Philadelphia Eagles)
C Brian de la Puente (Chicago Bears)
WR Lance Moore (Pittsburgh Steelers)
S Roman Harper (Carolina Panthers)
FB Jed Collins (Detroit Lions)
OT Charles Brown (New York Giants)
DE Tom Johnson (Minnesota Vikings)

Still in limbo:
TE Jimmy Graham (unsigned franchise tag)
S Rafael Bush (Saints have until Tuesday to match offer sheet by Falcons)

Still unsigned:
DE Will Smith (released by Saints)
CB Jabari Greer (released by Saints)
LB Jonathan Vilma (Saints announced they won’t re-sign)
DE Kenyon Coleman (plans to retire)
WR Robert Meachem
LB Will Herring
S Jordan Pugh
The New Orleans Saints officially need a new starting center now that Brian de la Puente has agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bears.

de la Puente
Obviously the Saints were prepared for this possibility -- and they seemingly chose to go in another direction. Terms of de la Puente’s one-year deal have not been announced yet, but it doesn’t appear that it would have cost too much for New Orleans to retain the 28-year-old free agent.

The Saints could go in a number of directions to fill the void. They’re very high on the potential of second-year pro Tim Lelito. But the undrafted free agent out of Grand Valley State is still raw. And so far, Lelito’s only NFL experience has come at the guard position in two spot starts last year.

The Saints could also draft a center in the early to middle rounds to add another candidate into the mix.

Or, if New Orleans wants to bring in a veteran for more security or competition, free agent Jonathan Goodwin is an obvious candidate. Goodwin, 35, was the Saints’ starter from 2008-2010, including a Pro Bowl season in 2009 en route to the Super Bowl. He spent the past three years as the San Francisco 49ers’ starter, though San Francisco has apparently decided to move on with a younger replacement.

Goodwin is no longer in his prime, but he has obviously proven to be a good fit in the Saints’ offense and locker room in the past, so he could be a great short-term solution.

Replacing de la Puente is a bit risky. He was a solid starter for most of the past three years. He was a huge part of their 2011 offensive explosion when he first came out of nowhere to beat out veteran Olin Kreutz for the job. And though he struggled early last season, he finished strong, helping the Saints show off a more prolific rushing attack in the playoffs.

Now the Saints need to find a new signal-caller in the middle of their line, while also continuing to develop second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.

However, the Saints should be able to absorb the loss of de la Puente since they have two Pro Bowl veteran guards in Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans. They also re-signed starting right tackle Zach Strief, keeping a good amount of stability on the line.

And it’s possible that Lelito or a draft pick could wind up developing into a long-term upgrade. Both coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have spoken highly of Lelito this offseason.

“Tim Lelito would be a guy that’s gonna be in the mix, someone that will be competing for that opportunity,” Payton said two weeks ago. “We’ll see who he’s gonna be competing against. But he’s someone that we feel has a chance to be that player.”
The offer sheet that restricted free-agent safety Rafael Bush signed with the Atlanta Falcons is worth $4.5 million over two years, a league source told The Advocate. The source also said Bush is hoping the New Orleans Saints won’t match the deal because Atlanta is offering a chance at a starting job.

Bush
New Orleans has until Tuesday to match the Falcons’ offer. If the Saints don’t match the offer, they will not receive any draft pick compensation from Atlanta.

The Saints have certainly been acting like a team that’s prepared to let Bush go this week. They agreed to deals with veteran cornerback Champ Bailey and former Canadian Football League safety Marcus Ball to add depth to their secondary.

Letting Bush go would free up $1.4 million in salary-cap space -- which the Saints probably need to be able to fit Bailey’s new deal under the cap. Bailey’s deal is worth up to $7 million, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Bush, 26, was expected to resume his role as the Saints’ No. 3 safety, which was practically a full-time job the way the Saints liked to use three safeties last year. The hard-hitting safety played 67 percent of the Saints’ defensive snaps when he was healthy last year (he missed three games due to injury). He finished with a career-high 42 tackles and five pass defenses.

The Falcons, however, are offering an even greater opportunity. They have a vacancy in their starting lineup since they decided to release veteran Thomas DeCoud last month.

Bush would become the second-most experienced safety on the Falcons’ roster. And he is friends with the Falcons’ other starting safety, William Moore -- making the switch even more attractive.

 
Champ BaileyDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesChamp Bailey is looking to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2013 season.

Sure, Champ Bailey might be over the hill.

But that doesn't mean he can't help the New Orleans Saints get over the hump.

Of course, you have to be skeptical about how much Bailey has left in the tank at age 35. And it's hard to ignore the fact that the Denver Broncos decided to let him go at a time when they're all-in to win while Peyton Manning is still their quarterback.

But it's also hard to argue with the Saints' decision to sign Bailey on Friday for two reasons above all others:

1. Bailey is one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history. Not just a guy who made one or two Pro Bowls in his prime. A guy who made 12 of them -- one shy of the record for all defensive players in league history.

2. The Saints have proven time and again this offseason that they're looking forward, not in the past. They've cut ties with six of their own all-time great veterans this offseason. They've pored over every player on the roster with a cold, calculating eye because of their salary-cap constraints and their desire to win another Super Bowl as soon as possible.

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
AP Photo/Eric GayIt will be up to Rob Ryan to see what kind of production he can still get out of Bailey.
And the Saints believe Bailey is worth a two-year contract that is worth up to $7 million, according to a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The Saints believe that creative defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can find a role for the 6-foot, 192-pound cornerback, who has always excelled in press coverage -- even as recently as 2012, before a foot injury plagued his disappointing 2013 season.

So count me among the optimists in this deal.

If nothing else, it's no small matter to add a future Hall of Famer to the locker room, film room and practice field. I'm not sure I've ever seen such an overwhelming response from Saints players about a new addition as we saw on Twitter following the news of Bailey's deal.

I spoke with ESPN scouting insiders Matt Williams and KC Joyner about Bailey. Both were turned off by Bailey's struggles in 2013 (when he was limited to five regular-season games because of the injury before returning for the playoffs). And Williamson said, "I hate to say it, but I think he's pretty close to done."

Joyner was a little higher on Bailey, though, since he was impressed with Bailey's 2012 performance.

Joyner has a metric he calls "good coverage" rating for defensive backs. He said Bailey's rating of 29 percent in 2012 ranked 21st among NFL cornerbacks that year. And he said he was a "shut-down" corner when he was in press coverage that year, when he allowed only four short completions and one contact penalty in 15 passes thrown his way.

Last year, however, Joyner said that Bailey allowed nine completions for 123 yards on a total of 11 passes thrown his way in all one-on-one coverage situations.

"If the cornerback of 2013 shows up, that's not gonna be a good sign," Joyner said. "You want to see him revert back to an earlier version. But that depends on how much injuries were impacting him last year."

Bailey, for one, believes he can bounce back.

He told the Saints' website that he tried to "grind my way" through the injury last year but couldn't quite get over it.

"I have a little more to my game, I believe, especially mentally," Bailey said.

Joyner is also optimistic.

"I'll bet he can get back to what he was in 2012," Joyner said. "If they get that Champ Bailey, the 2012 version, you've got a solid cornerback. He's not gonna be the shut-down guy he was in his prime. … But I would think he's one of those players who can bounce back.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see him, even if he takes a quarter-step back from 2012, that's still a very good No. 3 corner or a solid starter. You wouldn't be afraid to put the guy on the field if he's at that level."

Bailey will compete for that No. 2 starter job with Corey White and Patrick Robinson, two younger corners with some starting experience but also inconsistent track records.

Bailey could also play some sort of hybrid safety-cornerback role in nickel and dime packages. That's what a handful of defensive coaches and personnel executives told ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold when he asked around about Bailey's prospects in recent weeks.

But Bailey told USA Today that the Saints never approached him about the idea of switching to safety, and that he will have a chance to compete for the starting corner job.

"I still think corner is their No. 1 need. Yesterday and today," Williamson said. "I guess the Saints are in win-now mode. And I don't think they're super worried about looking to the future right now, and they're taking their shot. [Bailey] didn't play very well, though.

"He had a tough season [in 2013]. And I hate to say it, but I think he's pretty close to done. But maybe he sticks around for one year.

"The thing I thought most was, from where [the Saints] are picking in the draft, there should be some corners to pick from in the top two rounds. Maybe Bailey is just their mentor."

Williamson also pointed to the Broncos' season-ending playoff loss after the 2012 season, when Bailey struggled in coverage against Baltimore Ravens speed receiver Torrey Smith, as another sign of Bailey's gradual decline.

Williamson said the Saints will want to avoid having Bailey in single coverage against speed receivers. But he did agree that Bailey's press coverage and tackling ability can still be strengths. And Williamson is confident in Ryan's ability to put players in the right positions.

"He's such a great athlete and a rare specimen and a great player," Williamson said. "I'm not sure exactly how he fits. But it was obviously a weakness, and if you get a little out of him, great. He's still a good tackling corner. He's a physical corner still. Knowledge of the game. He can still compete for the football in the air for sure."

Clearly, the Saints are making a little bit of a gamble here. But I believe in Bailey's long track record. I believe in what I saw from Ryan's abilities as an aggressive chess-master last year. I believe in the talent that's now stacked around Bailey in the Saints' secondary.

And I believe, if nothing else, the Saints' 2014 season just became even more interesting.
One thing is for sure. Champ Bailey's new teammates with the New Orleans Saints are fired up about the arrival of the 12-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer.

Several of the Saints’ players expressed their excitement to play alongside one of the NFL’s all-time great defensive backs, via social media. Here’s a sampling:

.
The Atlanta Falcons are hoping to fill one of their biggest needs -- and to dent their longtime rivals, the New Orleans Saints, in the process.

Atlanta signed restricted free agent safety Rafael Bush to an offer sheet, meaning the Saints have until Tuesday to match the offer or lose Bush with no draft-pick compensation.

Bush
Terms of the Falcons' offer have not been disclosed. The Saints previously offered Bush a one-year deal at the lowest qualifying offer of $1.431 million. The Saints have given no indication yet whether or not they plan to match Atlanta's offer.

The reason the Saints would receive no draft-pick compensation is because Bush originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2010 -- with none other than the Falcons in 2010. Bush then spent a year with the Denver Broncos before finding a home as a part-time starter and special teams standout with the Saints over the past two years.

Bush had 42 tackles and five pass defenses last year as a part-time starter for the Saints, who often featured three safeties together in their nickel and dime packages. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder has also been a standout in special teams coverage for New Orleans for the past two years.

Both teams could really use Bush, since they're both very thin at the safety position.

The Saints have two excellent starters in newly-signed free agent Jairus Byrd and second-year pro Kenny Vaccaro. They also recently signed Canadian Football League transplant Marcus Ball. But those are the only three safeties on the Saints' current roster.

The Saints recently brought in veteran cornerback Champ Bailey for a visit. It's possible that Bailey could be used as a pseudo-safety in nickel and dime packages if the Saints decide to add him.

Atlanta, meanwhile, has an even bigger need at safety after releasing longtime starting free safety Thomas DeCoud last month. They have a standout starter in strong safety William Moore. But the next two safeties on the Falcons' depth chart are unproven seventh-round picks from last year -- Zeke Motta and Kemal Ishmael.

Motta, who replaced DeCoud for a game last season, is coming off of surgery for a cervical fracture.

The Falcons released DeCoud in part because of his $4.8 million salary-cap cost and in part because they didn't feel he was a physical enough tackler and didn't make enough plays on the ball.

Bush, who was primarily used as a deep safety for the Saints, does bring some physicality to the position.

Moore and Bush are friends, and he previously said that he had talked with Bush about the possibility of joining the Falcons.

Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure contributed to this report.
So much for slowing down the free-agency pace now that we’ve hit April.

The New Orleans Saints stayed plenty busy on Tuesday, bringing in future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey for a visit and re-signing linebacker Parys Haralson.

Both moves make sense. Even though the Saints have been going through a bit of a youth movement this offseason, they could still use a little veteran depth on defense.

Bailey
Hillis
Haralson
Obviously, the enthusiasm over the 35-year-old Bailey should be tempered a bit. The Denver Broncos chose to release him, and they’re in the exact same boat as the Saints -- a team going “all-in” to win right now.

Still, the idea of signing Bailey is a fascinating proposition. He’s one of the NFL’s all-time great cornerbacks, who would match wits in practice every day with another 35-year-old future Hall of Famer in quarterback Drew Brees. And if nothing else, Bailey would be a great addition to the locker room with one of the league’s rising young defenses.

Bailey is not a lock-down cornerback anymore. But that’s not what the Saints need (and it’s certainly not what they can afford at this point).

New Orleans has an outstanding No. 1 corner in his prime right now in Keenan Lewis, an outstanding safety in his prime in Jairus Byrd, and an up-and-coming star in safety Kenny Vaccaro.

Bailey could fit in nicely as a savvy veteran who would compete for the No. 2 job with unproven youngsters Corey White and Patrick Robinson. Or perhaps he could even play safety, which he is reportedly willing to consider, or some sort of hybrid role in nickel and dime packages.

It’s similar to the Saints’ line of thinking when they showed interest in veteran cornerback Brandon Browner this offseason.

Someone asked on Twitter why the Saints didn’t just keep Jabari Greer. I agree that a healthy Greer would be an ideal fit. But Greer’s knee injury remains a question mark for now.

As for Haralson, his fit is pretty obvious. Even though the Saints have outside linebacker Victor Butler coming back from a torn ACL this year, the two can split time in a rotation. Butler is more of a pass-rush specialist, while Haralson is more of a run-defense specialist.

Haralson played 37 percent of the Saints’ defensive snaps last season, racking up 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He could be used in a similar role this year, especially if the Saints line up in more true 3-4 formations than they did last year.

Chances are, the Saints will mostly line up with five defensive backs. That worked for them last season, and the modern passing game in the NFL practically requires it.

But as you may have noticed, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is creative enough to mix and match a lot of players in a lot of formations.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton seemed to agree with the notion that Jimmy Graham shouldn’t be labeled strictly as a tight end.

The Saints officially placed the franchise tag on Graham as a tight end earlier this month. But when asked Wednesday if he’s surprised that Graham would be interested in receiving “wide receiver money” in his next contract, Payton said: “I think that's a byproduct of a little bit of an antiquated system with regards to franchise numbers. I think those will be, over the years, revisited and adjusted."

Of course, Graham and his camp may have to force the issue if the two sides can't agree on a long-term contract extension within the next month. So far, Graham hasn’t filed a grievance to challenge the tight-end designation. But he must do so by mid-April if he wants to be declared a wide receiver instead.

That deadline could certainly speed up the long-term negotiations between the two sides.

One way or another, Payton stressed Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., that he is confident a deal will get done eventually -- calling it a matter of “when, not if.”

And if a deal does get worked out in the short term, Payton pointed out that the tight end/receiver debate ultimately won’t even matter.

“We're all optimistic,” Payton said. “It's really a matter of getting through this process, and (Graham's agent) Jimmy Sexton, (Saints general manager) Mickey Loomis, those guys have a great relationship. I think our fans are smart enough and understand there's always some time involved.

“This one's a little uniquely different in regards to the position classification, and yet that still may not even be an issue."
New Orleans Saints safety Jairus Byrd drew some lofty praise from his former coach -- and from one of his former rivals -- Tuesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando.

The AFC coaches were available to the media on Tuesday morning, so Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone and New York Jets coach Rex Ryan were both asked about Byrd. Here are some video clips, courtesy of NewOrleansSaints.com.

Marrone said the Bills made a competitive offer to try to keep Byrd. But he said if they had to lose him, he was “actually happy” that Byrd landed in New Orleans -- both because the coach is in the AFC and because he knows it will be a good fit for Byrd.

Marrone, a former offensive coordinator with the Saints, said he told Sean Payton he’s getting an “awesome player” both on and off the field. Here are some more quotes via The Advocate.

Ryan said he’s happy, too.

“I’m glad he’s out of our division. I’m also glad for my brother,” said Ryan, whose twin brother Rob is the Saints’ defensive coordinator.
The New Orleans Saints restructured cornerback Keenan Lewis' contract to save some salary-cap space. And they are $3.09 million under the salary cap after all of their latest moves, according to the NFL Players Association.

Lewis did not take a pay cut. He simply converted some of his base salary in 2014 and 2015 into bonus money -- a common procedure in the NFL that allows teams to push the salary-cap costs back into future years.

Lewis
Lewis’ base salaries dropped from $3.3 million to $1.1 million in 2014, and from $4.1 million to $1.8 million in 2015.

UPDATED: He received a $4.4 million signing bonus as part of the restructured deal, which essentially replaced the salary. He also added slightly to future roster bonuses. Here's the new year-by-year breakdown, according to ESPN Stats and Information:

Signing bonus: $4.4 million
2014: Base salary $1 million, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $3.35 million.
2015: Base salary $1.8 million, roster bonuses $700,000, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $4.85 million.
2016: Base salary $4.25 million, roster bonuses $700,000, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $7.3 million.
2017: Base salary $4.75 million, roster bonuses $700,000, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $7.8 million.

So far, Lewis is the only Saints veteran who has done one of these simple restructures this year. In recent years, the Saints have done them with a number of players to carve out cap space.

It’s unclear whether the Saints plan more of them. They could easily push some salary-cap costs back in some of their bigger contracts with players like Drew Brees, Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs or Marques Colston. But perhaps the Saints figure they have already pushed back enough of the cap costs on those deals and wanted to spread it around the roster a little more.

The Saints also have not touched the contract of defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, who is to make $4.5 million in salary and bonuses this season. That seems awfully high, considering Bunkley was used as a part-time player the past two seasons. It’s possible the Saints are still considering asking for a pay cut later in the offseason (like they did with safety Roman Harper last year). Or perhaps they envision a bigger role for Bunkley this year after he finished strong last season.

Thomas
Thomas' pay cut: Running back Pierre Thomas, meanwhile, did take a pay cut in 2014 when he signed his new three-year deal with the Saints this month. The details are now available after that three-year, $6.9 million contract was officially processed.

Thomas will now make $2.4 million in salary and bonuses this season instead of $2.9 million. But that $2.4 million is all guaranteed. The Saints saved $1.33 million off this year’s salary cap with Thomas’ new deal.

Here’s the breakdown of Thomas’ contract:

Signing bonus: $1.245 million
2014: Base salary $855,000, roster bonus $300,000. Salary-cap cost $1.57 million.
2015: Base salary $2.1 million, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $2.565 million.
2016: Base salary $2.2 million, roster bonus $100,000, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $2.765 million.

Humber, Morgan deals: Also, the contract numbers are in on the Saints’ new one-year deals with receiver Joe Morgan and linebacker Ramon Humber. Morgan’s deal is for the minimum $495,000 with no bonuses. Humber’s deal is worth $795,000, including a $65,000 signing bonus. However, he will only count $635,000 against the Saints’ cap as part of the NFL rules regarding veteran salaries on minimum-level deals.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- His plan had been to stay in New Orleans.

That was what Jed Collins had been told by the Saints. He had spent the past three seasons there on the active roster. He was living in the city in the offseason and he and his wife -- who is expecting the couple's first child -- had settled there.

Collins
Yet on Monday night, things changed in the Collinses' world. The Saints made a move on Erik Lorig from Tampa Bay and told Collins he would not be returning in 2014. A day later, he was on a plane to Detroit and the day after that, he signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions.

"I was told throughout the offseason that my home was going to be in New Orleans and I came to find out Monday night that they were moving on and that they felt they had an upgrade at the position," Collins said Wednesday afternoon. "I talked to my family. I've talked to a lot of people and keep telling myself this is the business I'm in. This is, there's no friends in it, this is a win-first and if they feel they got a better player, that's their decision.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to come up here and continue to work on and prove that I'm a top-tier fullback. That's who I believe I am. Even though New Orleans didn't go the way I thought it was going to, sometimes change is the best thing for a person and sometimes it's best for a career."

The Lions were the first team he visited and the only visit he had set up, although he said his agent, Derrick Fox, had been taking calls from other teams. But the Lions made sense to Collins, which is why he signed.

While Collins will be making that change and heading up north, there is a level of familiarity he will have when he arrives for offseason workouts next month.

He knows new Detroit offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi from their time in New Orleans. He had been coached by running back coach Curtis Modkins in Arizona. He knows special teams coach John Bonamego from their mutual time with the Saints.

Essentially every coach he will play for with the Lions, he has been with in some capacity before. So that helped and made Detroit an enticing landing spot when he heard the team would be looking to add a full-time fullback to the roster.

"From the system we had in New Orleans, I think I understand the profile of what they want the fullback to be," Collins said. "Obviously first and foremost, the fullback has to add value to himself everywhere he can, on special teams. Always throughout my career been a special teams guy, get on the field any way possible. But off the field, in the classroom, the fullback has to be a disciplined worker, team-first kind of guy and I try to fit that mold any way I can.

"Offensively, you want the ground-and-pound, you want the tough yards. I think that's what the fullback kind of symbolizes but also a lot of good receivers need a lot of good deep shots and play-action kind of opens that up. So whatever they need, I'm here for, but I know who I am as a player and I think I'm going to fit well."

The Lions clearly did as well, as they brought him almost immediately after he became clearly available. The team had already looked around at other fullbacks, including bringing in Henry Hynoski last week, and Collins was the second fullback to visit.

And that familiarity will be everywhere. Beyond the coaches, Collins played with both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell when they were with the Saints, so even in the same meeting room it will start to look a little bit like New Orleans north.

The playbook might look similar, too, but even from meetings with the staff on Wednesday and his prior knowledge of Lombardi, Collins hinted at changes from what the Saints run.

"He wants to put up points," Collins said. "He wants to control the ball and he wants to have a prolific offense, which he has the skills to do that.

"Will we be the New Orleans Saints offense? I don't think so. I think he will have his personal touches that will make it his own."

He will have a familiar blocking back, though, to help implement it.

Saints re-sign WR Joe Morgan

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
7:10
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints re-signed receiver Joe Morgan to a one-year deal on Tuesday. Terms were not disclosed.

Ponder
Morgan
Although the Saints didn't make a qualifying offer to Morgan last week when he was due to become a restricted free agent, it makes a lot of sense for them to bring him back (likely at a lower rate than the minimum RFA tender of $1.4 million).

If Morgan, 25, proves he can fully recover from the torn ACL that sidelined him all of last season, he'll have a shot to compete for the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver job in New Orleans.

Morgan appeared poised to win that job last year before suffering the knee injury late in the summer. And he offers the dynamic speed element that the Saints were missing last year in his absence.

In a limited role in 2012, Morgan caught 10 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns (an astounding 37.9-yard average).

For now, the Saints' backup receiver spots are still wide open behind returning starters Marques Colston and Kenny Stills. Nick Toon is the only other receiver on the roster with NFL experience. The Saints will likely keep adding to the competition, however.

They have shown interest in veteran free agent Sidney Rice. They could potentially bring back free agent Robert Meachem. And this year's draft class is considered to be loaded with talented receivers.

Morgan also visited with the Kansas City Chiefs last year before ultimately re-signing in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Morgan also appeared in the news on Tuesday for a non-football story. Morgan agreed to try to complete a diversion program to avoid prosecution on a DWI charge from last summer.
Lorig
The New Orleans Saints announced they have agreed to a four-year contract with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Erik Lorig. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Lorig will replace Jed Collins, whom the Saints decided not to re-sign as a restricted free agent.

Clearly, the Saints see Lorig as an upgrade. He's been a solid lead blocker for the Buccaneers throughout his four-year career and comes to the Saints in his prime. However, it’s not immediately clear why New Orleans made the switch, since Lorig and Collins are very similar in terms of age, size and production.

Both players are part-time players, primarily used as lead blockers. They’re also used on special teams and occasionally as receivers out of the backfield.

 

One possible theory is the Saints are looking to build a more traditional rushing offense, since they also traded away runner/receiver Darren Sproles this offseason, which will give more touches to more traditional running backs such as Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. But the Saints have not made any comments to that effect.

Lorig actually began his career as a defensive end when he was drafted in the seventh round by the Buccaneers in 2010. He then made the position switch during his rookie year, and he has played in all but one game over the past three seasons.

Collins, meanwhile, is scheduled to visit this week with the Detroit Lions, where he could be reunited with former Saints quarterbacks coach and current Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

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