As we are about to enter the month of April, a.k.a. Draft Month, the NFL off-season has seen a plethora of moves made around the league. More importantly, we care about the moves the Saints have made or did not make in the last few weeks. Their strategy of not overpaying and playing the field low-key has been a brilliant strategy the last few years mainly due to how well they have drafted and brought in key free agents. The two biggest surprises thus far have been the end of the Mark Ingram era and Max Unger’s unexpected retirement. But if there is one thing we know about our Saints is that they will always find a replacement and not skip a beat.
Here we will breakdown all the moves made so far, who is still available, and how everything will affect the draft process:
Teddy Bridgewater | QB (re-signed)
Bridgewater returns to the Saints on a one-year deal to solidify the backup role and is in line to be the successor to Brees once it’s all said and done for him. The Dolphins made a push late but it was not enough to get the job done. Bridgewater is hoping the stars are in line for him to take the reigns and become the franchise quarterback he was bound to be.
Latavius Murray | RB (signed from Vikings}
Murray is the type of back the Saints need to compliment Alvin Kamara. His a big body at 6’3″ and has exceptional speed. With Ingram gone, Murray instantly comes in to take his snaps but will be hard to replace his locker room presence. Payton himself said he has a role for Murray and when that is mentioned, you know he will find a way to get him in positions to win.
Jared Cook | TE (signed from Raiders)
The Saints finally get the pass catching tight end they have been missing since the Jimmy Graham trade. Cook is coming off his best season statistically and becomes an instant weapon in Payton’s offense. Defenses thought they were scared before better start panicking now.
Nick Easton | OL (signed from Vikings)
No sooner did Unger retire, Easton was signed to be a candidate to replace him. He is versatile by being able to play center and guard. He missed last season with a neck injury. Now the Saints have the depth on the interior of the offensive line adding Easton with Cameron Tom and Will Clapp, who can also play center and guard.
Malcom Brown | DT (signed from Patriots)
As a two-time Super Bowl champion, the Brown signing came as a bit of a surprise to most, including myself. Brown is primarily a nose tackle and this could be a sign that Tyeler Davison may be signing elsewhere but nothing is guaranteed. His contract is a steal and makes sense given that Sheldon Rankins is likely to start the year on the PUP list and David Onyemata may be suspended for his off-season arrest, although there has been no word on that of late. Nonetheless, the Saints made a bargain deal for a top end talent.
Mario Edwards, Jr. | DL (signed from Giants)
Leave it to the Saints to find another versatile defensive lineman in Mario Edwards, Jr. Edwards is capable of playing inside or outside and will probably have a solid role in the rotation early on in the season. His signing is definitely for value and there is nothing wrong with that. He has already posted on his social media of him working out and embracing the culture, how can you not love that?
Marcus Sherels | CB/Returner
In a low-key signing, Sherels fills a void that has been from the Saints for quite some time in a returner. Mainly known for his punt returning abilities, Sherels is also capable of handling kickoffs as well. With Darren Rizzi brought in to be the new special teams coach, we anticipate the Saints finally being able to get the third phase of the game down pat with these moves. Sherels also can play some at cornerback but that will be for emergency purposes only.
Mark Ingram | RB (signed with Ravens)
Everyone wanted Ingram back because of his locker room presence and chemistry with Kamara. Even with the Murray signing, it was possible to bring him back. Ultimately, his asking price seemed like more than the Saints wanted to offer and also wanted to bet on himself. Once his contract numbers came out, he took a lot less than originally reported. We wish Mark well in Baltimore and he will be missed by the Who Dat Nation, just hope next time he checks with his agent and looks more into the details of his next contract.
Alex Okafor | DE (signed with Chiefs)
Okafor was solid run stuffer on the edge and contributed consistently for the Saints. His contract automatically voided which worked in his favor when he signed a sizable contract with Kansas City. With Marcus Davenport in line to be the future opposite Cam Jordan, Okafor took a chance to be a starter elsewhere and there is nothing wrong with that. Wishing him all the best in KC.
Tommylee Lewis | WR/Returner (signed with Lions)
Lewis was a fan favorite as an undrafted free agent from Northern Illinois. He managed to make the team in 2016 but his performances were far from impressive. He had a lot more negative moments than positive but will always be remembered for his role in the NOLA No Call. Hopefully a change of scenery will do wonders for him but it just was not going to work out here with all the depth at receiver and better options at returner.
Max Unger | C (retired)
This was the most shocking and gut wrenching news of the off-season. Unger has been the heart of the offensive line since 2015 after being acquired in the Graham trade. He was a consistent player and leader who gave it his all for the Saints for four years. The decision was based on his health and we cannot blame him for that one bit. Ten years in the NFL is a great feat to accomplish, especially as an offensive lineman. The Who Dat Nation will thank him generously for his time as a player and hope to have him continue his relationship with the team in the future.
Ziggy Ansah | DE | Lions
Ansah visited the Saints in the early stages in free agency but won’t sign with a team until after his results come back on his injured shoulder. With news that the Saints were interested in Robert Quinn, they are still looking for another end to put in the rotation to help Davenport develop. Ansah is the best option available and his injury may be enough for the team to get him on a bargain deal.
Michael Johnson | DE | Bengals
Veteran player who still has some play left in him and would be a good bridge in Davenport’s develop. Huge body size and leadership as a solid contributor in Cincinnati.
T.J. Yeldon | RB | Jaguars
Yeldon has not had a big market considering the amount of running backs in this year’s draft class. However, his talent is too good for Payton and the Saints to not take a flyer on him. In this offense, he would give the Saints a three-headed monster that will leave defenses confused and flustered all game long.
Dez Bryant | WR | Saints
Understandably, Bryant has been rehabbing his Achilles injury and there has not been much contact with the Saints. It is possible that he may re-sign with the team but there has been a lot of cryptic messages sent by him over social media that make it seem like a toss up at this point. Bryant would have been coming in at the right time last season before his injury and still has the ability to draw attention from opposing defenses. We will have to see how it turns out after the draft.
With the moves made by the Saints, they put themselves in a position to do multiple things. They can stand pat in the second round and take the best player available. They could also move back in the draft and collect a couple of picks in the third and fourth/fifth round depending on the trade partner. However, do not be surprised if they trade up for someone they have their eye, especially if they start to fall.
Overall, the Saints have made solid moves while not being flashy, which we all like to see. Credit goes out to Mickey Loomis and his mastery over the salary cap. I think we all could use a little bit of Loomis in our life.
Follow Dom Lewis on Twitter @BigFella122