Saints are smart to sit out first wave of NFL FA

Ditching high-risk mega contract gambits is the right move

Seth Dunlap
March 11, 2019 - 7:13 pm

Nick Foles, $88 million from the Jaguars.  Trey Flowers, $85 million from the Lions.  Landon Collins, $84 million from Washington. Kwon Alexander, $57 million from the 49ers.

Those are just some of the eye-popping deals emerging during the opening hours of the NFL Free Agency's legal tampering period, where contracts can be negotiated but not officially signed and announced.  The trend is clear -- team's are willing to pay, and overpay, for the top talent available on the market even if that means salary cap problems down the road.   There's a second trend that's also emerged over the last decade: the best run franchises consistently sit out the wild, expensive first wave of free agency.

It's no coincidence that teams like the Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, Steelers, Ravens and, yes, the Saints, have usually stayed away from the dangerous, but tempting, game that the first few days of free agency have become.  Those franchises are widely considered among the best-run franchises in the NFL, with salary cap strategies that are usually the envy of the league.  Those teams rarely enter the early free agency bidding wars, even when their needs may align with some of the top available talent.  Instead, they elect to make smarter, more frugal, decisions geared towards sustained long term success, and salary cap health.

It's also no coincidence that the big spenders early in free agency have been the Lions, 49ers, Jaguars, Washington, and other consistent NFL bottom-feeders.  Those franchises often see no problem in offering mega-contracts top end talent, often overspending dramatically on the value those players bring to their respective teams.  One critical misstep when offering those monster deals can cripple a franchise for years.  March has become a Groundhog's Day for far too many teams.

The Saints used to operate that way.  It wasn't long ago they were giving Jairus Byrd a $56 million contract, or enticing Brandon Browner away from the Seahawks for nearly $20 million.  General Manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton have learned their lesson.  The past three offseasons the franchise has instead opted for a more reasonable, lower-risk strategy in free agency: find value among available players who fit their needs and scheme after the initial gold rush.

That's smart.  In fact, it's imperative for any team that wants to contend for longer than just a couple flash-in-the-pan seasons.  The Patriots are known as brutal salary cap hawks.  The Seahawks have relied on a draft, and trade, heavy approach to team building.  The Packers and Ravens have long been shy window shoppers in free agency, preferring to aquire draft assets rather than risk big misses in free agency.  The Saints, now, have developed their own hybrid team building formula, concocting their own mix of high-priced free agency aversion and draft-first philosophy.  They're still ultra-aggressive in the NFL Draft -- see last year's move up to take DE Marcus Davenport -- but they've ditched the high stakes gambit that this week brings every season.

This is a long way of saying fans shouldn't worry if the Saints hibernate through the week.  They've set themselves up for sustained long term success for many years, with a roster that is loaded with young talent on both sides of the football.   It can be frustrating when your team isn't grabbing headlines this time of year.  Usually, however, teams either grab headlines now or in January.  Which would you prefer?

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