Saints go shopping
By LARRY HOLDER
-- A bank full of money sits in the New Orleans Saints' back pocket going into this offseason as the team is more than $30 million under the 2008 salary cap.
With some glaring voids staring at them, the Saints will have the cash to be a serious player for the high-priced free agents entering the market. They also have more than a handful of players they will likely try to retain.
Throw in the players the Saints may simply cut loose because of poor performance and finding players who actually make an impact from the '08 draft and the Saints brass have some long hours ahead of them.
Here's an offensive breakdown of the Saints free agents and the players that GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton may snatch up. We'll look at the defense Friday:
Jamie Martin never threw a pass for the Saints this season. That's a good thing because that means Drew Brees was healthy all season. The Saints may sign Martin back and try to find a young quarterback in the draft, even though Tyler Palko remains on the practice squad.
Top free agent QBs: Derek Anderson (restricted), Rex Grossman, Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown, Quinn Gray and Cleo Lemon.
Who the Saints should go after: No one. The Saints should re-sign Martin to a short-term deal and develop Palko or someone like Hawaii's Colt Brennan.
Aaron Stecker is the only back not under contract. His stint as a starter showed he can help, but there's a crowded backfield. Pierre Thomas had the best game of any running back in Week 17. Deuce McAllister holds a hefty price tag and an uncertain health future with his knee injury.
Top free agent RBs: Marion Barber (restricted), Michael Turner, Justin Fargas, Jamal Lewis, Julius Jones, Tatum Bell, Chris Brown and Derrick Ward.
Who the Saints should go after: No one. Reggie Bush will return healthier. Stecker should return. If McAllister can't go, Thomas could become the new Deuce to complement Bush.
Half the corps will be on the market for the Saints. David Patten turned two bad years in Washington into a successful one in New Orleans. Devery Henderson was one of the biggest disappointments of the season, going from a training camp star to regular season headache with his inconsistent hands. Terrance Copper saw more action late in the season as Henderson and Lance Moore fell off the map.
Top free agent WRs: Randy Moss, Bernard Berrian, Jerry Porter, Andre Davis, Bryant Johnson, Keary Colbert, Drew Carter, D.J. Hackett and Ernest Wilford.
Who the Saints should go after: Sorry folks, Moss will stay in New England. Patten and Copper will probably stick around. Henderson's situation is intriguing, though. Berrian is known for his speed and could be a good fit with Brees with solid hands.
Berrian will cost a bit of change, but do you want a guy who makes nice catches in terrible conditions (Berrian) or someone who drops passes in the Superdome with perfect conditions? Spend the money on Berrian and let Henderson go.
Both Eric Johnson and Billy Miller brought pass-catching ability. Miller seemed to be the more reliable of the two as Johnson's drops were more costly than his catches. Ronnie Ghent was the Saints' third tight end for much of the season. Mark Campbell will be back after spending '07 on injured reserve.
Top free agent TEs: Dallas Clark, L.J. Smith, Ben Utecht (restricted), Bo Scaife (restricted) and Jerramy Stevens.
Who the Saints should go after: Miller will return, but Johnson is a question mark.
Jamar Nesbit may not be an NFL household name, but in the two seasons he was a full-time starter in New Orleans, the line was one of the stingiest in the league and a key in the success of this offense.
Top free agent guards: Alan Faneca, Ryan Lilja, Jake Scott, Larry Allen and Jacob Bell.
Who the Saints should go after: Although they drafted Andy Alleman in the third round last year to replace Nesbit, the Saints should bring back the veteran to keep stability up front. Brees said Monday there's no doubt that he wants Nesbit back.
Both Jeff Faine and Jonathan Goodwin will hit the open market if the Saints don't sign them to deals before free agency opens. Faine will probably be the best center on the market, and Goodwin should also get some looks from other teams.
Top free agent centers: Jeremy Newberry, Casey Wiegmann, Brett Romberg and John Wade.
Who the Saints should go after: Brees said the same thing about Faine that he had about Nesbit: keep him. Goodwin proved to be valuable as Faine's backup and the Saints should hang onto him also. Should and will are two different stories, though.
All the Saints' tackles are under contract and should remain.