The New Orleans Saints are entering the 2012 offseason with numerous key free agents.
The Saints will have to focus on re-signing Drew Brees, first and foremost, but after that there are several key players that the Saints will need to begin to talk to. Among those players is All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks.
Nicks was drafted by the Saints in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Nicks has started ever since, and he has become one the best guards in all of professional football, if not the single best guard in the league.
New Orleans depends on Nicks for his great run-blocking ability, but more so his skills against the pass rush. Nicks is one of the league's premiere guards in pass blocking and any team would love to have this talented player on their team.
This is why the Saints desperately need to re-sign Nicks before he hits the free agent market. If Nicks becomes available, then there is no doubt that many teams will immediately offer him huge contracts. The Saints are lucky to have two All-Pro guards in Nicks and Jahri Evans, but they could lose their left guard if he is able to talk to other teams.
However, the Saints are one of the best teams in the league in regards to re-signing their own free agents.
We are talking about a front office that was able to bring back Lance Moore, Roman Harper, Jermon Bushrod, Zach Strief, David Thomas and Nicks himself last offseason. They were also able to bring in guys like Darren Sproles, Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin.
If any team has the capability of re-signing a player like Nicks as well as other key guys, it is the Saints.
Either way, this begs the question: what do the Saints do if they lose Nicks in the upcoming free agency period?
The solution is simple. The Saints will obviously have to move on and replace Nicks. New Orleans has shown that they are very good at doing this, and it does not always take a high-round draft pick.
The Saints have brought in late-round picks and even undrafted free agents to fill holes in the past. Moore, Pierre Thomas and Marques Colston are all examples of this. There is no doubt that the Saints would bring in some talent to compete for the spot vacated by Nicks.
The Saints also have two talented, young players in Brian de la Puente and Matt Tennant. Both of these players are listed as centers, but they can also play the guard position. De la Puente showed in 2011 that he can compete at a high level in the NFL, and I believe that Tennant is capable of the same thing.
Regardless of the players currently on the roster, the Saints would also bring in some veteran players and likely younger players to compete in training camp for the spot.
Whoever it is that would come in and replace Nicks would come into a great situation.
The new left guard would be placed on an offensive line that has been one of the best in all of football for years now. The Saints had two Pro-Bowlers on the offensive line, not including Nicks. It also helps that they have Brees throwing the ball, and he is great at avoiding pressure.
A new guard would be able to come into New Orleans and could probably play well, but would look excellent because of the talent around him.
If Nicks does leave in free agency, then the most likely scenario for the Saints would be to replace him with either de la Puente or Tennant. I would be surprised to see a guy come in fresh and start, unless it was an established veteran or a relatively high draft pick.
The Saints' offense would definitely take a hit without Nicks, but they would be able to recover and continue to be one of the best in the NFL. Brees would still be a great quarterback and the Saints would consistently be able to run the ball.
New Orleans is one of the best in all of football when it comes to replacing talent, but let's hope that they do not have to replace Nicks next fall.
I do not believe that the Saints will lose Nicks, but it does not hurt to know what would happen if he wasn't back in the black and gold in 2012.