All's quiet on the New Orleans Saints and NFL front

All's quiet on the New Orleans Saints and NFL front
February 15, 2011
by Mike Triplett

For those who don't remember what life was like before the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, February usually is a quiet month in the NFL.

This year, it will be even less eventful, thanks to the stalemate in labor talks between the league's owners and players union.
Teams will still gather in Indianapolis next week for the annual scouting combine, the premier showcase event for college draft prospects. But many of the routine free-agency transactions, such as tendering contracts to restricted free agents, won't take place without a new collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL declared that teams still are allowed to apply franchise tags to potential free agents, but the Saints almost certainly won't be in that number.
Even though they have 27 potential free agents on their roster -- the highest number in the NFL, according to a recent tally -- none of those players is expected to merit the franchise tag. For example, the Saints would have to offer a one-year deal in the $6.5 million range to safety Roman Harper, in the $8 million range to tailback Pierre Thomas or in the $10 million range to offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod or receiver Lance Moore.
So far this offseason, the Saints have made some minor moves, releasing backup tailback P.J. Hill and backup fullback Marcus Mailei and signing some practice squad players to futures contracts.
It's possible the Saints could release a noteworthy veteran in the coming weeks. Last year, they released defensive end Charles Grant, linebacker Mark Simoneau and guard Jamar Nesbit on the eve of the new fiscal year in early March. This year, however, there won't be the same sense of urgency to release a player until a new CBA is in place.
One player who could fall into that category is veteran cornerback Randall Gay, who is due a $3.5 million salary plus a $500,000 roster bonus in the final year of his contract. Gay is expected to be recovered from the concussion that landed him on injured reserve last year. But he would almost certainly need to restructure his deal to remain in New Orleans.
Other veterans who may need to restructure deals to stay with the Saints this offseason include tailback Reggie Bush (due a salary of $11.8 million), tight end Jeremy Shockey ($4.2 million) and receiver Devery Henderson ($2.25 million). But none of those contracts likely will be tweaked before a new CBA is reached.
The Saints are allowed to re-sign their own free agents before March. They are also free to extend quarterback Drew Brees' contract, which runs out after the 2011 season. But neither the Saints, nor any other teams around the league, are likely to make any long-term moves without knowing what the framework of the CBA and the salary cap will be like this year and beyond.
It's unknown if the salary cap will return to the NFL this year, and if so, what the threshold will be. It's also unknown if the league will go back to its old system, where players became eligible for unrestricted free agency after four years of experience, or if there will be a continuation of last year's rules, when players needed six years of experience to become unrestricted free agents.
Here's the complete list of the Saints' potential free agents, based on their years of experience (starters have asterisks):
Six years or more: LB *Scott Shanle, C *Jonathan Goodwin, FB *Heath Evans, S Darren Sharper, DT Anthony Hargrove, DE/DT Jimmy Wilkerson, RB Julius Jones, RB Ladell Betts, LB Danny Clark, LB Kawika Mitchell, S Pierson Prioleau, S Matt Giordano.
Five years: S *Roman Harper, WR Lance Moore, TE David Thomas, OT Zach Strief, WR/KR Courtney Roby, CB Leigh Torrence.
Four years: RB *Pierre Thomas, OT *Jermon Bushrod, DT *Remi Ayodele, DE Jeff Charleston, LB *Marvin Mitchell, S Usama Young, S Chris Reis, TE Tory Humphrey, RB DeShawn Wynn.
Three years: G *Carl Nicks, K *Garrett Hartley, LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, LB Anthony Water
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