Falcons could hurt Saints by chasing Nicks

For several months now, I’ve been hearing from a lot of Atlanta Falcons fans that think the team should go hard after New Orleans Saints guard Carl Nicks in free agency.

My standard thinking on that was that I was against the move. Nicks is the best guard in the league and he’s going to cost big money. No doubt the Falcons could use some improved play at guard, but my thinking was conventional. As a general rule, you don’t pay guards huge money. But you do pay big money to left tackles and the Saints have a much bigger need there.

Sam Baker, a 2008 first-round draft pick, hasn’t really worked out. He lost his starting job last season and could be released. I still think the Saints need to do something pretty major at left tackle.

But my thinking on Nicks now has changed. I now say the Falcons should go all out in an attempt to sign Nicks. He’d upgrade the interior of their line and his presence alone probably would make whoever ends up at left tackle a little better.

But that’s not the main reason I think the Falcons should go after Nicks. I think they should do it because they might be able to deliver a knockout punch to their division rivals. With the franchise tag being used on quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints have almost no salary-cap room left. They reportedly have re-worked the contract of defensive end Will Smith. They could re-work the deal of linebacker Jonathan Vilma or they could release him and some other guys could be on their way out the door for cap reasons.

Quite simply, the Saints probably don’t have the cap room to sign Nicks. The same goes for receiver Marques Colston, cornerback Tracy Porter and receiver Robert Meachem as well as some other former role players.

As I wrote last week, this salary-cap situation could end up gutting the Saints as we know them. As long as they have Brees, they’ll remain competitive and they may even remain the class of the NFC South. But the Saints are a team that’s vulnerable right now (and we don’t even know what penalties might come from their “bounty program," but those penalties are likely to be severe).

In a lot of ways, the Saints are sort of on the ropes right now. The Falcons don’t like the Saints and the feeling is mutual. Since the arrival of coach Mike Smith in 2008, Atlanta often has had to play second fiddle to the Saints in the NFC South.

The Saints have won the division two of the past three years and they won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2009 season. The Falcons have been competitive with them, but you’d have to say the Saints have had the upper-hand in the division for most of recent history.

But all that’s going on with the Saints could leave them stumbling a bit. The Falcons are sitting pretty. They’ve got decent cap space and a good team that could be ready to take the next step.

Going out and getting Nicks would only help the Falcons as a team. But, maybe more importantly than strengthening themselves, the Falcons could weaken the Saints.