The New Orleans Saints have a few questions this offseason, but some of them come with easy answers. Unfortunately for the Saints, not all of the decisions will be as easy when it comes to which players they can afford to sign and which ones they will be forced to watch sign with a new team.
First things first. Quarterback Drew Brees is not going anywhere. Not under any circumstances will the Saints not have Brees under contract for at least the 2012 NFL season. Whether they are forced to use their franchise tag on the record setting gunslinger for one season or whether they can agree to a long term contract, Brees will be under center by the time New Orleans begins OTAs in a few months. That much is a given.
The problem is, Brees obviously will not come cheaply for the Saints. As one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the NFL today, he is looking at a deal similar to ones that Tom Brady signed with the New England Patriots. Brees should command a five or six year deal worth in excess of $100 million, meaning his salary will take up roughly one-fifth of the team’s cap space for the upcoming season.
Still, whatever it takes, Brees will be with the Saints for the foreseeable future.
But that means that other players will not be around next season.
The two top free agent decisions that the Saints will face this offseason will be who they can sign between offensive left guard Carl Nicks and top wide receiver Marques Colston. As much as the team would love to have both players back next season, it just may not be possible from a financial salary cap standpoint.
Yet while the Saints would love to have both of them back, is there a chance that they will not be able to re-sign either player?
Brian Allee-Walsh of SportsNOLA says that “I don’t think both will be playing for the Black and Gold next year and both could leave for greener pastures. I also think there probably is a greater sense of urgency to keep Nicks in the fold (translated: pay him top dollar) than Colston, although team officials would love to re-sign both.”
It is the prevailing train of thought, especially since Brees is known for spreading the ball around as well as any quarterback in the league, including Brady and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Colston is the top wide receiving option for Brees, and has been for years. But the single season record holder for most passing yards has no problem hitting Lance Moore or Devery Henderson as well. Oh, and he also seems to like throwing to that tight end of his, Jimmy Graham, who has already become one of the top two or three players at his position in a very short time.
Nicks, on the other hand, is one of the top protectors of Brees, meaning his importance cannot be measured in comparison to that of Colston.
New Orleans also maintains the option of re-signing Brees and using the tag on either Nicks or Colston. It would not make either player extremely happy, as it would just be a one year deal, but both players would earn $9.4 million in 2012 if they are designated as the Saints’ franchise player.
Nicks would undoubtedly cost the team more money for a long term deal. That is because he is one of the top guards in the game. You also consider that Jahri Evans signed a seven year contract worth $56 million in 2010 with the Saints to man the right guard spot for the future. Nicks would be worth at least the same amount to the team.
But it is unlikely that the Saints would even choose to pay Colston close to the $10 million it would cost them in 2012 if they franchise him. Consider the fact that their other top options – Graham, Henderson and Moore – are scheduled to make a combined base salary of just over $5 million in total for the 2012 season. Would they really choose to pay one player almost twice as much as three others combined, when, on any given day, any one of those four players could lead the Saints to a victory on offense?
While the 2012 NFL Draft offers some attractive options at both positions of offensive line and wide receiver, the Saints do not have a first round pick this April. That pick, which is No. 27 overall, belongs to the Patriots. New Orleans does have seven picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, but they will not be on the clock for the first time until the No. 27 pick in the second round. The Saints have done well outside of the first round in recent drafts, selecting such players including Graham (Round3), Tracey Poretr (Round 2) and Nicks (Round 5), but not having a first round pick is never good.
Either way, March will be a month of monumental decisions for the Saints that will have a major impact on the offense going forward.