The 2010 Super Bowl Champions New Orleans Saints have a league-high 27 players entering the 2011 NFL Free Agency market. Just like any other year, the future home of these players is uncertain—but perhaps now more than ever with the labor uncertainties approaching the 2011 season. Of course, the odds of retaining all 27 are about the same as winning the lottery, but New Orleans will do its best to resign its core unit, as keeping a winning team intact is of utmost importance.
QB Drew Brees
Drew cool-as-an-ocean Brees is one of the most elite in the game today. Brees lead the Saints to become Super Bowl Champs in '09 and brought the team back to the playoffs this past season. Albeit he's not going anywhere soon, the 11th-year veteran, who always possesses high character on and off-the-field, looks to solicit a well-deserved gargantuan deal similar to the other top QBs from around the league.
RBs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas
Despite recent injuries, the organization needs to do everything possible to hang on to the very talented and tricky multi-dimensional Reggie Bush.
Analogous to Bush, Pierre Thomas was plagued with injuries in 2010, which made way for Chris Ivory to shine like the Louisiana sun. He was a huge part of the 2009 Super Bowl run and will try to nail a deal into place, but I don't anticipate New Orleans to resign Thomas, especially with the growth of Chris Ivory.
WR Lance Moore
A fan favorite and productive wide out Lance Moore started just one game this season but provided a solid impact in each game he played in—racking up 66 receptions for 763 yards with 8 TDs after coming off an injury in 2009. Who Dat Nation would love to have him return to the field in Gold and Black next season.
TEs David Thomas and Troy Humphrey
On every team it's important to have a star tightend that can perform very well in blocking and excel in the passing game. Just ask Tom Brady.
New Orleans is no stranger either with Jeremy Shockey and up-and-coming pacesetter rookie Jimmy Graham.
So it should be no surprise that David Thomas and/or Troy Humphrey will be on their way out and make room for a new backup via the 2011 NFL Draft in April.
Offensive Line: C Jonathan Goodwin, G Carl Nicks, OTs Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief
The Saints offensive line has delivered great protection the last few years. One of the most fundamental areas that need to be addressed are keeping the unit together and make improvements via the draft.
Three out of the four linemen are starters and play a significant role coming off the bench. Therefore, I suspect New Orleans will leave the unit in the swing of things by first resigning the two leaders, Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks and center Jonathan Goodwin.
Nicks, who led the group in a solid performance last season, is considered one of the top guards in the league.
Goodwin possesses terrific mobility for his position and does a good job inside, allowing the ball carriers to get the yards they need.
Keeping them in the lineup might be the most important factor since they have a handle on the offense extremely well and make adjustments no matter what defense stands in their way. In the same direction the two OTs include starter Jerome Bushrod and second string Zach Strief, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and will likely only be resigned if the Saints are unable to bring back Bushrod.
Bushrod has been a reliable member of the unit since filling in for an injured Jamaal Brown in 2009. The fourth-year veteran fits right into the scheme and it would blow my socks off if he was let go, as he would become a valuable commodity on any franchise.
Defensive Line: DEs Jeff Charleston and Jimmy Wilkerson, DT Remi Ayodele and DL Anthony Hargrove
DE Jeff Charleston has four years of experience in the NFL, but just four career starts, most of which in his rookie season in Indianapolis. His departure is probable.
DT Remi Ayodele has broke out from his negligible impact in 2006-2008, producing 67 tackles in 29 starts the past two seasons. Ayodele is expected to resign for presumably the same amount as the 2010 deal after the completion of the CBA.
Anthony Hargrove signed his tender last year and is certainly an asset when healthy, but I could see New Orleans moving on and looking for a replacement. While stats aren't everything of course, he didn't start any games and only accumulated 29 tackles and one sack in 2010.
Linebackers: ILBs Anthony Waters and Marvin Mitchell and OLBs Scott Shanle, Clint Ingram, JoLonn Dunbar and Danny Clark
The majority of these linebackers impacted the team from off the bench.
Marvin Mitchell and Anthony Waters served on the inside of the LB core as great depth for Jonathan Vilma.
Mitchell was the stronger of the two and a valuable contributor, posting 43 tackles and two forced fumbles last season.
Expect Mitchell to be brought back, preventing him from testing the waters of free agency and becoming a starter for another team, while Waters is more likely on his way out.
Scott Shanle is a solid player, but not spectacular by any means. His 76 tackles total makes it a tough decision whether to bring him back or just let him go. He's not very disruptive and is about average against the run. Unless he's willing to come back as a backup, I don't see him returning to the Saints. However, the fans and the staff know he's a team leader in the locker room with good character and for the right price he'll be back in black and gold in 2011.
JoLonn Dunbar, one of the restricted free agents and a solid contributor who started in eight games and recorded 40 tackles in 2010.
Other OLB free agents include Danny Clark and Clint Ingram, who both can be replaced from the deep free agency linebacker class or in the draft.
CB Leigh Torrence
Leigh Torrence made great contributions in the secondary, but he's continued to be plagued with injuries as of late. The Saints have may have much better luck in selecting a cornerback in the draft, especially since this year's class is as deep as the Caribbean Sea.
Safeties: Roman Harper, Darren Sharper, Usama Young, Pierson Prioleau and Chris Reis
Roman Harper is a very experienced strong safety, who had a great season in 2010, accruing 98 tackles and eight turnovers and is now a free agent. Like a care salesman working as a steel worker for the first time, Harper was lost playing the out box safety against Seattle, but he's one of the NFL's best and I'm sure Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams wants him back in New Orleans.
Darren Sharper has become a fixture down in Na'lands. But he's continuously battled through injuries in recent years and is not getting any younger. Look for the Saints to wave goodbye with a replacement through the draft or within the young talent (i.e. Malcolm Jenkins or Chip Vaughn) unless he would be willing to take a significant pay cut and play for the right price.
Usama Young recorded 23 tackles and one sack in 11 games and 3 starts in 2010. The fourth-year veteran hasn't exemplified that he's ready to replace Sharper and take on the starting position on a weekly basis. Young will most likely become a last-minute signing, if the Saints decide to bring him back at all.
Prioleau and Reis provided depth for Sharper and Harper, but I'm not convinced on either one of the backups staying with the franchise moving forward. Prioleau, a 12th-year veteran and 33-years-old, played 15 games in '10, but made little to virtually no contribution with just 18 tackles to show. Reis' impact was even more trivial, accumulating just four tackles in two games.
K Garrett Hartley
Garrett Hartely is one of the top kickers in the NFL and New Orleans will do whatever it takes to keep its kicker from landing his feet on another team.
KR Courtney Roby
Though he ended the year on injured reserve (IR) (concussion), Roby is young, played well throughout the season and is filled with talent. He'll be back in 2011.
Anyone can see without a set of binoculars that this offseason will be a very busy one for the New Orleans Saints—not only in filling in the gaps (no, not of Michael Strahan's teeth) and ways to continue to grow—but also in trying to keep the team to stay together.
General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Peyton will be industrious on the go this offseason putting the best team on the field as next fall approaches.
Written By: Oren Shiri