With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lockout, we are looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we take a look at the Saints.
Top three story lines
1. Reggie Bush said on May 14 that playing for the Saints is his first choice, and head coach Sean Payton has made it clear that he would like to have Bush be a part of his team. Bush is under contract with the Saints through the 2011 season. So why is Bush's future the team unclear? He's due $11.8 million this season, and the Saints are not willing to keep a role player at a price that high. Bush has acknowledged that he'll have to renegotiate and appears willing to take a paycut to stay with the club. Will the two sides agree on a salary when the lockout is over and negotiations can begin? That's far from a certainty.
2. New Orleans' defense unraveled in the team's playoff loss last season, giving up 41 points to the Seahawks. So it was no surprise that the Saints focused on addressing that side of the ball, and specifically the front seven, signing DT Shaun Rogers and spending five of their six draft picks on defensive players, this offseason. With Rogers and first-round pick DE Cameron Jordan added to the fold, the D-line will be more versatile and third-round pick Martez Wilson could be an instant contributor at strong-side linebacker. The loss to Seattle left a bitter taste in the mouth of coordinator Gregg Williams and he'll challenge the unit to respond when it's assembled after the lockout.
3. The Saints have some unfinished business with QB Drew Brees, who has been leading Saints players through workouts, and covering some of the cost of doing so, during the lockout. Brees, one of the lead plaintiffs in the NFL Players Association's lawsuit against the NFL, is heading into the final year of his contract. The Saints want to keep Brees a Saint, and Brees would like to stay in New Orleans, but the lack of a labor agreement could complicate negotiations even if the lockout ends before the start of the regular season. Brees, the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, is one of the league's elite quarterbacks and he'll command a contract similar to the five-year deal worth $48.5 million guaranteed that Tom Brady reportedly signed last year.
2011 free agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: DT Remi Ayodele (4), RB Ladell Betts (9), OT Jermon Bushrod (4), DE Jeff Charleston (4), OLB Danny Clark (11), OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (3), FB Heath Evans (10), S Matt Giordano (6), C Jonathan Goodwin (9), RB Lynell Hamilton (2), DE Tony Hargrove (6), S Roman Harper (5), LB Ramon Humber (2), TE Tory Humphrey (4), RB Julius Jones (7), MLB Kawika Mitchell (8), WR Marvin Mitchell (4), WR Lance Moore (5), OG Carl Nicks (3), S Pierson Prioleau (12), S Chris Reis (4), WR Courtney Roby (5), OLB Scott Shanle (8), S Darren Sharper (14), OT Zach Strief (5), TE David Thomas (5), CB Leigh Torrence (5), OLB Anthony Waters (3), DE Jimmy Wilkerson (8), RB DeShawn Wynn (4), CB Usama Young (4). [Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]
Analysis: If the league operates under the same free agency rules as it did in 2010, the Saints will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. It will make it cheaper for them to keep some core players — Bushrod, the starting left tackle, Harper, the starting strong safety, and Moore, one of Brees' favorite targets — that otherwise would become unrestricted. The Saints tendered those three players and Ayodele, Charleston, Young, Nicks and Thomas before the lockout. The Saints also would like to re-sign Goodwin — a Pro Bowler in ’09 — but he'll explore options on the open market and, while he's not an elite player, he could generate interest. Sharper, 35, is preparing to play next season and if he doesn't get an offer to start from another team, it's possible that the Saints will consider re-signing him to a one-year deal.
2011 rookie class
First-round DE Cameron Jordan (No. 24 overall) — With long arms, big hands and good athleticism and agility, Jordan is versatile. He could slide inside in the nickel package and is more quick than powerful.
First-round RB Mark Ingram (No. 28 overall) — The Saints traded up into the first round to grab Ingram. He was the most complete back in the draft, but lacks elite speed. Ingram is well built and can handle a heavy workload.
Third-round SLB Martez Wilson (No. 72 overall) — Wilson could contribute immediately as a two-down run stuffer on the strong side. He has a rare combination of size and speed, but is raw.
Third-round CB Johnny Patrick (No. 88 overall) — Patrick's focus will be on special-teams initially and he fits well as a gunner. He doesn't have elite traits, but shows good cover skills.
Seventh-round DE Greg Romeus (No. 226 overall) — He fell in the draft because of health and durability concerns. If he overcomes the adversity and becomes more consistent, Romeus will have starting potential.
Seventh-round OLB Nate Bussey (No. 243 overall) — Bussey doesn't have the size or strength to be an every-down 'backer. He'll have to battle to make the team as a special-teamer.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Saints be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Saints rate a 2. The uncertainty about free agency might have them sweating a bit more than other teams because their list of free agents is very long, and includes some key players, but every team is dealing with those questions to an extent. The Saints are well prepared to weather the lockout, thanks in large part to Drew Brees' leadership, and the consistency on the coaching staff.
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