The Big Question: Saints wise?

April, 6, 2010
4/06/10
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NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Are the New Orleans Saints doing the right thing by staying so quiet?

The Saints sat high atop the football world after winning the Super Bowl in February. But the future stories of recent champions hasn’t been pretty.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
Geoff Burke/US PresswireSean Payton and the Saints have remained relatively quiet during the free-agency period.
Still, the Saints pretty much have been sitting still in free agency, not adding much of anything and losing a couple of key cogs.

The truth is, they’re handling the situation perfectly and you have to keep in mind this is a unique situation. Without a labor agreement, the NFL is headed into a season without a salary cap and some special rules apply to the final eight teams left standing last season. That means the Saints can only sign an unrestricted free agent when they lose one of their own and the price tags are similar.

To date, all they’ve really lost are unrestricted free agent Scott Fujita and restricted free agent Mike Bell. They also released defensive end Charles Grant and a few others, but you can call that addition by subtraction, and the Saints may look to replace Grant with Alex Brown, who recently was cut by the Bears.

Fujita, an outside linebacker, and Bell, a running back, each played important roles last season. But neither player was part of the team’s core. They both got big money elsewhere and the Saints would have matched or bettered those offers if they truly believed Fujita and Bell were irreplaceable.

The Saints have a bevy of young linebackers and they’re hoping one of them can step forward and claim Fujita’s job. They also might pick up a linebacker in the early rounds of the draft, so the loss of Fujita isn’t devastating.

Neither is the loss of Bell. He was part of the backfield rotation with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush last year. But the Saints also have a young power runner in Lynell Hamilton. They’ve sniffed around a couple of free-agent running backs and it’s also a position they might address in the draft.

The Saints also are letting veteran safety Darren Sharper hang out there as an unrestricted free agent. They still want him back, but they’re not going to break the bank on a 34-year-old safety. From the looks of things, it doesn’t appear any other team is beating on Sharper’s deal to give him a huge contract. There are contingency plans in place if Sharper leaves.

No matter how that one plays out, the Saints are in good shape. Their real focus this offseason is to protect their core and they’ve done that by placing high tenders on restricted free agents like guard Jahri Evans. At some point, they’re going to have to give him a long-term contract. They also are likely to extend the contract of quarterback Drew Brees, who is the core of the core.

Yes, the Saints haven’t added very much, but that will change some with the draft. Besides, the Saints haven’t lost all that much. They still have the core of a team that won a Super Bowl, which is a lot more than most teams can say.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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