NFC South: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees joined ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd on "The Herd" Thursday to discuss his thoughts on the Saints’ schedule and their offseason roster moves, among other topics.

Brees laughed when Cowherd asked him the popular offseason question about whether Jimmy Graham is a tight end or wide receiver. “I hate this question,” Brees said.

But the two wound up having an intriguing conversation about Graham’s unique skill set, and Brees said he loved Cowherd's comparison to NBA star LeBron James.

“Honestly, he’s a hybrid,” Brees said of Graham. “He’s revolutionizing that position. So he's kind of his own class.”

Brees was promoting a unique raffle he’s doing with Xbox to benefit his Brees Dream Foundation. Brees will fly anywhere in the continental United States to have dinner with the winner and 11 friends.

Analyzing McShay mock: Saints 

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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At various points this offseason, ESPN draft analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have projected offensive tackle, outside linebacker, cornerback and receiver to the New Orleans Saints with the No. 27 pick in the draft. And really, any one of those choices is feasible since the Saints have positioned themselves to take the best available player in Round 1.

However, I like the fit of McShay's latest pick Insider the best of any prediction yet.


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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: In general, the New Orleans Saints' schedule is fairly manageable. Their strength of schedule is tied for 23rd in the NFL, and they don’t face the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos or New England Patriots. However, the Saints probably would have drawn things up a little differently if they could have written their own weekly lineup.

The Saints had better win on the road early in the season. Their first four road games are arguably the four easiest -- at Atlanta in Week 1, at Cleveland in Week 2, at Dallas in Week 4 and at Detroit in Week 7 following a bye.

The Saints need to go at least 3-1 over that stretch. They should really start out 6-2 or 7-1 overall if they want to contend for a top seed in the NFC. The schedule gets tougher down the stretch with a Thursday night game at Carolina in Week 9 and road trips at Pittsburgh in Week 13, at Chicago in Week 15 and at Tampa Bay in Week 17.

Complaint department: The Thursday night game at Carolina marks the third straight year the Saints have to face a division rival on the road on a Thursday night. And that’s the toughest challenge for teams all season. They’d much rather play at home during those short weeks.

The cold-weather games late in the year also stand out, especially playing at Chicago on a Monday night in late December. But some cold-weather games were inevitable with the Saints' road schedule this year since they're traveling north so often. At least they get to avoid the boiling-hot weather by playing at Tampa in Week 17.

Prime-time players: One other complaint -- only two of the Saints' five prime-time games are at home. You can pretty much chalk up a prime-time game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as a victory for the Saints. They've won 13 consecutive home night games, and 16 of their last 17, by an average score of nearly 20 points per game dating back to 2008.

So that means both Green Bay on Sunday night in Week 8 and Baltimore on Monday night in Week 12 are doomed.

Strength of schedule: 23rd, .469 | Vegas over/under : 9.5

Saints Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Thursday, Oct. 30, at Carolina, 8:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, San Francisco, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 24, Baltimore, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 15, at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
AVONDALE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints began their offseason conditioning program this week with tight end Jimmy Graham still unsigned. But it’s still too early in the year for anyone to be concerned about his absence.

Graham is not expected to participate in the Saints’ workouts since he’s not under contract. Although the Saints placed the franchise tag on Graham, he hasn’t signed the offer yet. So he’d have to sign a waiver to participate.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Ric TapiaSeeking a long-term deal with the Saints, Jimmy Graham could miss a big portion of the team's offseason workouts.
Saints coach Sean Payton seemed to indicate Wednesday that he doesn’t expect that to happen when asked if he anticipates Graham joining the team for any workouts.

“I think it’s pretty normal. I think everything the first week was pretty much as expected,” said Payton, who spoke with the media before teeing off in the pro-am at the Zurich Classic PGA tournament.

It’s also highly possible that Graham could miss the Saints’ OTAs and minicamp practices in May and June while the two sides continue to negotiate over a long-term contract extension.

The important deadline is July 15. After that date, franchised players can only sign one-year agreements with their teams. History suggests that the standoff could last right up until the deadline (as was the case with quarterback Drew Brees’ deal when he was franchised in 2012).

Brees spoke confidently about Graham’s situation while appearing on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Wednesday. Brees said he is confident a deal will get done “very soon.”

However, Brees seemed to be speaking in general terms rather than giving any specific insight that a deal is close.

Among other topics Payton discussed Wednesday:

  • He said the team has not yet made a permanent decision on whether to exercise the fifth-year option on running back Mark Ingram’s contract, which would require the Saints to pay him $5.2 million in 2015. The Saints have until May 3 to make that decision, though it seems unlikely that they will. The Saints already exercised their option on defensive end Cameron Jordan earlier this week.
  • As usual, there was a full-team meeting to kick off the offseason program on Monday. Payton said that’s typically just used to lay out the summer calendar through the start of training camp. He said there hasn’t been much football talk yet. “Really, I think it’s important that in the early stages of all this that the players, when they come to the facility, they feel like they’re coming to lift weights and condition,” Payton said. “There’s so much time for football and X's and O's and all of those other things. Really, it’s just encouraging the way the weight room looks. We have a new nutrition cafe, a lot of different elements that go into just being in really good shape.”
  • Payton said he believes the Saints’ first preseason game at the St. Louis Rams will be played on Friday, August 8 -- though the specific date hasn’t been announced yet. He said the team will likely open training camp at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia with conditioning tests on Thursday, July 24.
  • Payton said he doesn’t mind the draft being pushed back this year because it’s beneficial for the team to get more time to study film on players. But he said the longer wait might be “more stressful to the player because I think players then visit more teams, there’s more workouts, they’re pulled a little bit more than maybe normally.”
AVONDALE, La. -- It's unlikely that the New Orleans Saints will exercise the fifth-year option on running back Mark Ingram's contract before the May 3 deadline. The Saints would have to pay him a salary of $5.2 million in 2015 to extend his deal for another year, which is more than the going rate for free-agent running backs these days.

Ingram
But Ingram insisted that he's not overly concerned about the Saints' pending decision.

"I'm not too sure if they'll pick up the fifth-year option," Ingram said Tuesday. "But I'm just working one day at a time. I'm just glad to be on a team that's a championship contender."

Ingram, who spoke to the media before participating in a celebrity golf shootout at the Zurich Classic PGA tournament, is understandably excited about the upcoming season.

Ingram, 24, started to play some of his best football down the stretch last season after an up-and-down start to his three-year NFL career. And his role could potentially increase in 2014 after the Saints decided to trade fellow running back Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I really haven't had any direction conversation with (the Saints about) that," Ingram said of a potentially-increased role. "But I guess that's an assumption that everybody else makes."

Ingram will still have to split touches with fellow running backs Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet in a crowded backfield. But Ingram's arrow is clearly pointing up. And as an added bonus, he's fully healthy after battling a variety of nagging injuries throughout his pro career.

"I'm very excited," said Ingram, who joined his teammates for the start of the offseason conditioning program this week. "Excited to be back with the team, getting ready going for a championship."
Sean Payton, Rob RyanAP Photo/Bill HaberSean Payton, shown with Rob Ryan, says Saints "pay attention to what is winning, who is winning."
The New Orleans Saints are evolving.

At their core, they haven't changed much since coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 2006. The Saints are still led by a dynamic passing offense that toys with opponents inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where New Orleans was 8-0 last season.

But the Saints will win the NFC South this year because they might just have the best defense in the division, too. Adding three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey further bolstered a young defense that had a breakout year in 2013 under new coordinator Rob Ryan.

Meanwhile, New Orleans has also been embracing a more traditional run game while parting ways with offensive weapons like Darren Sproles and Lance Moore.

The Saints are showing a New England Patriots-like ability to keep adapting to stay on top.

"Everybody's always looking for ways to reinvent themselves, to improve themselves, without losing who they really are," said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, who believes New Orleans is doing just that.

[+] EnlargeByrd
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesSafety Jairus Byrd, who had four interceptions and a forced fumble last season with Buffalo, should help the Saints cause more turnovers.
"This is one of my favorite teams to watch. I like their style," Riddick, a former personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles, said of the Saints. "Multiple is a big word in my vocabulary when it comes to football. And they're multiple on both sides of the ball. They can run it or throw it. On defense they can sit back and play zone or pressure you. I like that about them."

The Saints have only seven players remaining from their 2009 Super Bowl team. But New Orleans still should be considered a bona fide contender to get back there five years later.

"I like what they're doing," Riddick said. "I think they're positioning themselves well to make sure that they stay among the heavyweights in the NFC and try to knock some of them off and get back to the big game."

The Saints' defense was surprisingly sensational last year, led by breakout seasons from pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Kenny Vaccaro, among others. They ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed (305.7 per game) just one year after setting the record for most yards allowed in a season (440.1 per game).

But just as surprisingly, the Saints decided that wasn't enough.

Although conventional wisdom in New Orleans has always been that the Saints just need to be decent on defense to complement their high-powered offense, the team didn't feel that way. Especially after falling victim to the Seattle Seahawks' dominant defense twice last season.

When Payton was asked in his season-ending news conference if there was less of a need to improve the defense than ever before, he quickly shot down the idea.

"I think we try to pay attention to what is winning, who is winning," Payton said. "I think you study the San Franciscos and the Seattles, and you recognize that there is still this formula that has won in our league for a long time. And that is your ability to stop the opponent ... and then have balance in both the running and passing game."

So the Saints went all-in with a six-year, $54 million deal for Byrd. He's a ball-hawking safety who should help in the one area where the Saints' defense struggled last year: forcing turnovers.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram, Nate Allen
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsMark Ingram carried 18 times for 97 yards and a touchdown in the Saints' playoff win at Philadelphia.
Offensively, Payton also seems to be embracing that pass-run balance as much as ever. The Saints rode the run game to their first road playoff win in franchise history. They're clearly intent on finding more touches for emerging running backs Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram, who led the way that night in Philadelphia. That was one of the reasons for the Saints' decision to trade Sproles, a veteran runner/receiver, to the Eagles.

"You want to kind of be like a chameleon from week to week and do whatever is necessary to win a game, depending on what your opponent doesn't do very well," said Riddick, who remembers the Saints having a better pass-run balance when they steamrolled his Eagles during the 2009 season. "[Patriots coach] Bill Belichick has been lauded for that for years."

It's no coincidence that Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis are being credited for some of the same things as Belichick. Ever since Payton arrived, they have talked openly about modeling themselves after the Patriots organization in many ways.

"What they're doing is [Patriots-like]," said former Saints and Patriots fullback Heath Evans, who now works as an analyst for the NFL Network. "And Sean's never really shied away from, 'Hey, what the Patriots do, it works. So why not to the best of your ability, with your own talent pool and your own system of thinking, try to copy what they do?'"

Evans also pointed out that copying the Patriots' model means borrowing from other teams, as well.

"You've got to go with the flow of this league. And what Seattle's done, they're really the ones that everyone needs to try to be copying," Evans said. "Because they can beat you in 15 different ways. Their quarterback doesn't have to play well to win."

In that same postseason news conference back in January, Payton also shot down another reporter's question, when he was asked if the Saints' "window of opportunity" might be closing as many of their longtime stars get older.

"Honestly, the 'window,'" Payton said, "as long as I am the head coach here, we are trying to slam it open always."
AVONDALE, La. -- Champ Bailey met with the New Orleans media for the first time on Tuesday. Naturally, one of the first questions for the Saints' new 35-year-old cornerback was how much football he has left in him.

“We'll see,” Bailey said. “I still got some now. That's all I'm worried about right now. I'm not looking beyond that.”

Bailey, who spoke before teeing off in a celebrity golf shootout as part of New Orleans' Zurich Classic PGA tournament, hasn't had to deal much with those types of questions throughout his stellar career.

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY Sports"I can't get out and run 365 days a year. That's just not smart," Champ Bailey said. "So it's just trying to prepare smarter and do things the right way so I can play a lot longer."
The former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins standout is a 12-time Pro Bowler and a future Hall of Famer. But for now, the jury is still out on how much he has left in the tank.

“Well, that comes with the business,” Bailey said. “People are always gonna doubt you. You have one hiccup, and you know, you're just not the same. My thing is just to go out there and play the best I can.

“I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody but myself and my teammates. That's all I've got to do.”

Bailey struggled last season with the Broncos, largely due to a foot injury that sidelined him for 11 games.

He was then released by Denver after the season. And though the Saints showed interest in him early, he went unsigned for a month before the Saints inked him to an incentive-laden two-year deal that included only $500,000 in guaranteed money.

The Saints obviously feel like Bailey still has something left. They added him despite releasing several of their own aging players at other positions this offseason.

Bailey will compete for the No. 2 cornerback job opposite Keenan Lewis. He'll compete against younger corners Corey White and Patrick Robinson, among others.

“My thing is to find my place on this team and my role and just play to the best of my ability,” Bailey said.

Bailey mentioned more than once that the goal in New Orleans is to win a championship. He said the Saints' ability to do that was one of the main attractions for him.

When asked Tuesday if there was any one deciding factor -- be it head coach Sean Payton or defensive coordinator Rob Ryan -- Bailey pointed to quarterback Drew Brees above all others.

“Well, those are definitely some big factors,” Bailey said of Payton and Ryan. “I mean, you want a good head coach (with) a good track record. And Rob Ryan, we know what he's done in this league for defenses. But, you know, when I look around the league in my experience, you've got to have a good quarterback. And Drew Brees was a big part in that.

“You're not gonna win that many games without a good quarterback and a good pass rush. Those two things together, plus the good coaches, it makes for a good team.”

Bailey, who turns 36 in June, said he doesn't plan to alter his training regimen much this year from recent years. But he said that he did change up his routine a few years ago to better pace himself because of age and injuries.

“I can't get out and run 365 days a year. That's just not smart,” Bailey said. “So it's just trying to prepare smarter and do things the right way so I can play a lot longer.”
The New Orleans Saints' players are officially back to work for the start of the 2014 season. Monday marks the beginning of the team's offseason conditioning program.

Participation is optional and limited to strength and conditioning activities. Typically the full squad will get together for a team meeting on the first day.

The morning chatter on Twitter had a "first day of school" feel to it:

 

On-field practice sessions are scheduled to begin the week of May 27 and last through June 19. The team's mandatory three-day minicamp is scheduled for June 10-12.

The Saints have not yet announced their starting date for training camp, which will begin at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia sometime in late July.
Bringing back veteran Robert Meachem makes a lot of sense for the New Orleans Saints. They were thin on veteran receivers. And Meachem is still a good fit in his specific role -- as a standout blocker and effective deep threat on play-action passes.

Meachem
Meachem
The Saints now have solid depth at the position, with Meachem, Nick Toon, Joe Morgan and Andy Tanner among the candidates for backup roles behind starters Marques Colston and Kenny Stills.

However, the Saints should absolutely still draft a receiver this year. And I think they will. Maybe even in Round 1 if the draft grades line up.

Draft analysts universally agree that this year’s rookie class is loaded with receiver talent. I’ve seen at least nine different receivers mentioned as possible first-round picks, including fast-rising Indiana prospect Cody Latimer, whom ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper paired with the Saints in his latest mock draft Insider.

More than a dozen intriguing receiver options will be available beyond the first round.

The Saints could use a dynamic receiving threat immediately to help them stretch the field. More important, they need to start developing a future No. 1 or No. 2 guy with Colston now in his 30s.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. made another switch for the New Orleans Saints in his latest mock draft, version 4.0Insider.

And this time, Kiper went with a player he dubbed as the fastest-rising player on his board for the Saints at No. 27 overall.


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The New Orleans Saints have overhauled their secondary more than any other position group over the past two years, adding free agents Jairus Byrd, Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey and first-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro.

But don't think for a second that the Saints will ignore those positions in the draft -- especially if they get a crack at a top prospect such as Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert or Louisville safety Calvin Pryor.

Both of those top draft prospects are visiting New Orleans this week. Pryor was in town Monday, according to multiple reports. And Gilbert flew to New Orleans on Monday night, according to his own Twitter feed.

(UPDATE: A league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan that four other cornerback prospects were also visiting New Orleans on Tuesday, along with Gilbert: Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir, Oklahoma’s Aaron Colvin and Baylor’s Demetri Goodson.)

Cornerback seems like a bigger need for the Saints right now. A rookie such as Gilbert could battle Bailey and others for a starting job immediately. The Saints are more loaded at safety with Byrd and Vaccaro locked up long-term and Rafael Bush recently re-signing a two-year deal.

But the Saints have always proven in the past that they firmly believe in the best-available-player principle in the draft (aside from a handful of positions they really don't need). They demonstrated that again last year, when safety didn't appear to be one of their most glaring needs before they took Vaccaro.

And if anyone can figure out how to plug in a great athlete somewhere, it's creative defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

The bigger problem with both Gilbert and Pryor is that virtually zero analysts believe there's a chance they could fall to the Saints at No. 27. New Orleans would probably have to trade up to snag one of them.

Gilbert (6-foot, 202 pounds) is especially enticing. He's a sensational athlete who posted the fastest 40-yard dash time of any cornerback at the NFL scouting combine (4.37 seconds) and also served as a standout kickoff returner in college. He returned a total of six kickoffs for touchdowns in college.

Gilbert intercepted seven passes last year for Oklahoma State and returned two of those for touchdowns, as well. However, opinions are a bit mixed on just how high he might go. Some have projected him as a possible top-10 pick, though ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay is admittedly lower on him than most, ranking him 24th overall.

McShay cites Gilbert's inconsistent production and focus. He had a breakout year as a sophomore in 2011 with five interceptions, then had zero as a junior before his terrific senior season.

Perhaps his inconsistency makes Gilbert a risky investment as a top-10 pick. But he sure seems like he'd be a home run for the Saints if he slips into their reach.

Pryor, meanwhile, also seems to be a home run prospect. He's certainly a power hitter.

The 5-11, 207-pounder is known as a big hitter and standout run supporter as an in-the-box safety. He's also athletic enough to hold his own in coverage.

Pryor had seven interceptions and nine forced fumbles in his three-year college career, and he ran the 40 in 4.58 seconds. He is battling Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to become the first safety drafted.

Rice still in play: The Saints are still among the teams in play for free-agent receiver Sidney Rice, according to a league source. The Saints showed interest in Rice earlier this offseason. And he is now cleared to resume football activities after recovering from a torn ACL, according to Pro Football Talk. PFT, which said Rice might sign somewhere soon, also listed the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants and Carolina Panthers among teams interested in Rice.

Rice, 27, was a dynamic receiver early in his career with the Minnesota Vikings, with a Pro Bowl season in 2009 (1,312 yards, eight touchdowns). But he has battled a series of injuries during the past four years with both the Seahawks (2011-2013) and Vikings (2007-2010).

The 6-foot-4, 202-pounder suffered the torn ACL midway through last season and finished with just 15 catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns in eight games played. In 2012, Rice had 50 catches for 748 yards and seven touchdowns in a full season with the Seahawks.

Herron's draft diary: Another player who made a pre-draft visit to New Orleans recently was Wyoming receiver Robert Herron, a projected mid-round pick. Herron shared a few details from the trip, plus his thoughts on how excited he'd be to join the Saints in a draft diary he's writing for USA Today.
The New Orleans Saints have to decide by May 3 whether they want to extend the contracts of their 2011 first-round draft picks -- defensive end Cameron Jordan and running back Mark Ingram -- through the 2015 season.

Jordan’s extension is expected to cost $6.969 million for 2015 and Ingram’s $5.211 million, according to ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton, who wrote about the looming fifth-year extensions around the league.

Ingram
Jordan
This is the first year that these fifth-year extensions will kick in after they were added to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement in 2011. And as Clayton pointed out, that 2011 draft class happened to be one of the best in years.

Therefore, several teams are expected to retain their players -- which will put a dent in the talent available in next year’s free agency class around the league.

Extending Jordan is a no-brainer for the Saints. He was a first-time Pro Bowler last year in a breakout season with 12.5 sacks. He is arguably the Saints’ top defensive player as he heads into his fourth NFL season. And he doesn’t turn 25 until July.

Ingram is less likely to be extended at that price – even though the Saints remain high on his future and could consider re-signing him to a more affordable extension.

Ingram, 24, finished strong last season with an impressive performance in the playoffs. And his role in the Saints’ backfield could increase slightly this year now that the Saints have traded away veteran Darren Sproles. However, Ingram will still be in a timeshare with fellow running backs Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson.

Too early to draft Brees’ successor: Also in Clayton’s mailbag, he said it’s still too early for the Saints to draft a successor for quarterback Drew Brees. I completely agree -- as I’ve written several times this offseason. I expect Brees to keep playing at a high level for at least three or four more years.
From the outside looking in, the New Orleans Saints’ offseason has probably seemed a bit hectic.

The Saints have been full of surprises, from the big-name acquisitions of Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey to the big-name departures of Darren Sproles and others.

[+] EnlargeMickey Loomis
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMickey Loomis has made several key additions to the Saints' roster despite salary-cap constraints.
Based on reactions from fans and national analysts alike, the biggest head-scratcher of all has been the fact that the Saints keep adding ammo to the roster despite a tight squeeze against the salary cap.

But none of these moves have been made on the fly.

General manager Mickey Loomis insisted last week that just about every move the Saints made was part of a calculated plan.

“It’s not a process where all of a sudden there’s somebody [available] and you decide, ‘Hey, let’s go do this,’” Loomis said while speaking with reporters at LSU’s pro day.

“We have a short-term plan and a long-term plan,” Loomis continued. “And we come into each offseason with 19 or 20 or 25 different things that we want to get accomplished. And you just kind of go down the checklist. And obviously things come up that are unexpected, and you have to react to those. But for the most part, it’s a plan and an execution of the plan.

“So I would say it was kind of business as usual.”

Asked how many of those items the Saints have hit, Loomis said, “We’ve hit a lot of them. We always do. We don’t hit every item, but we hit almost all of them.”

(Click here for a recap of all the Saints' moves as of the beginning of last week.)

The Saints are actually in great shape with the salary cap after agreeing to a pay cut with defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley last week. They’re now $3.6 million under the cap, and they probably don’t have too many more expensive purchases left in their shopping cart.

New Orleans still has some noteworthy tasks left to complete. The biggest is signing tight end Jimmy Graham to a long-term contract extension, but Loomis insisted that there is no immediate pressure to get that done. Graham's franchise tag figure is already counting $7.035 million against the Saints' salary cap, so they don't need to clear out any new cap space for him.

The Saints also need to find a new starting center after letting Brian de la Puente get away in free agency, though they like second-year pro Tim Lelito’s potential as a candidate for that role.

And there are a few other positions where New Orleans needs to get younger, including receiver, but most of those needs can be filled through the draft.

As Loomis suggested, we won’t know until the fall whether the Saints’ plan worked out. But so far, at least, everything is going as planned.

“I feel like we’ve executed our plan well,” Loomis said. “Whether that’s a good plan or not remains to be seen. But we feel like it is.”
With the first month of free agency now in the books, ESPN Stats & Information put together some league-wide numbers. And it was interesting to note that the New Orleans Saints were among the most and least aggressive teams at the same time.

The Saints only added three players from other NFL teams in free agency (Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey and Erik Lorig). That tied for the lowest number in the league, along with the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams.

However, the New Orleans Saints were the biggest spenders on any one player. They gave Byrd more guaranteed money than any other free agent in the NFL this offseason.

Byrd’s $26.3 million in guaranteed money beat out Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Branden Albert ($26.0 million), Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib ($25.5 million) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Michael Johnson ($23.0 million).

With the Saints investing so heavily in one player, it’s the equivalent of trading up for a top pick in the draft. Only this time they “traded up” for the top pick in free agency.

The division-rival Buccaneers, meanwhile, led the NFL in both new free agents signed (15) and total guaranteed money spent since March 11 ($74.3 million).
The New Orleans Saints are now $3.6 million under the salary cap, according to the NFL Players Association, after their latest flurry of moves. Their new two-year deal for safety Rafael Bush was officially processed on Thursday.

Bush’s deal is worth between $3.8 million and $4.55 million, depending on incentives.

He’ll make $1.85 million this year, which is also his 2014 salary-cap cost. Bush did not receive a signing bonus, but $850,000 of his salary is guaranteed.

He is due $1.95 million in 2015, which is also his 2015 cap cost. He can earn an escalator of up to $750,000 next year based on interceptions and a Pro Bowl appearance this season.

Bush was already on the books for a $1.4 million cap hit this year since the Saints had previously made him a one-year qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. So the new deal doesn’t affect the cap much.

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