2012 NFL Free Agents: 5 Players New Orleans Saints Must Sign
The Saints have a good amount of key free agents again this year, most notably quarterback Drew Brees, guard Carl Nicks and wide receiver Marques Colston.
It is without a doubt that the Saints will bring back Brees. Whether it be through a large contract extension or the franchise tag, Brees will be a Saint in 2012.
The same cannot be said for Nicks, Colston and the other Saints free agents.
Among the list of free agents in New Orleans are Tracy Porter, Robert Meachem, Shaun Rogers, Aubrayo Franklin, Chase Daniel, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Turk McBride and Jeff Charleston.
The Saints will likely try to re-sign their own free agents before pursuing the other guys on the market. However, we have seen the Saints let players walk in recent memory, and they are likely to do that again this year.
After winning Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints allowed linebacker Scott Fujita to walk away and sign a huge deal with the Cleveland Browns. Last year, New Orleans let safety Usama Young sign with the Browns.
Mickey Loomis and the Saints' front office does a great job with knowing player personnel and who they can survive without. There are undoubtedly a few players currently on the roster who the Saints have no intention of bringing back.
Loomis and Sean Payton are constantly trying to make this Saints team better, and they will look to do that again this offseason.
After re-signing some of their own key guys, there are five players the Saints should try to get to New Orleans.
Let's take a look at who they are.
Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions
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Cliff Avril looks to be one of the premiere defensive ends to hit the market this offseason, and that is exactly what the New Orleans Saints need.
In 2011, Avril played in all 16 games for the Detroit Lions and recorded 11 sacks. The Saints have not had an end hit double-digit sacks since Will Smith had 13 in 2009.
The Lions will undoubtedly try to keep Avril, but I am sure that if the Saints make the right offer, they could bring him to New Orleans.
In order for this signing to actually happen, a few other things will have to take place first.
The Saints will likely have to cut ties with Smith to free up cap space and a starting job for Avril. New Orleans will also have to decide if they want to bring back reserve ends Turk McBride and Jeff Charleston.
If the Saints' defensive line were to stay the same this offseason, then Smith and Cameron Jordan would start at defensive end in 2012.
New Orleans has Junior Galette on the roster, but he will likely be a pass-rush specialist in 2012. The Saints also have Greg Romeus, but he has not played a down in the NFL yet and we don't know much about him at all.
With that being said, the Saints could use the services of Avril.
New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo relies on his four down linemen to get pressure, and Avril will help the Saints do just that. He would come in and likely be the best overall end on the roster.
If the Saints can find a way to bring Avril to New Orleans, then they have to do it.
LaRon Landry, SS, Washington Redskins
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The New Orleans Saints have a Pro Bowler in Roman Harper currently at the strong safety position. Last offseason, the Saints re-signed Harper to a large contract extension and he had an amazing year in 2011.
However, he may need to be replaced this offseason.
The simple fact is that Harper may not fit well into Spagnuolo's defensive scheme. Spagnuolo is a great defensive coach and could probably make Harper fit, but struggles are likely to follow.
Harper's game as a strong safety is best when he is playing against the run or rushing the passer. Harper is not a great cover safety, and that is what Spagnuolo needs from his safeties.
Spagnuolo's defense requires pressure from the defensive linemen and solid coverage from the secondary. So what do the Saints do about Harper's lack of coverage skills?
The reality of the situation is that the Saints are likely stuck with Harper for at least one more year. The only way that Harper is not with the Saints next season is if they are able to trade him.
That would be the ideal situation for New Orleans. If the Saints can find a suitor for Harper and get a couple late-round picks, then that would be great. It would also free up some cap space for the Saints and they could target a replacement in free agency.
Harper's replacement should be LaRon Landry from the Washington Redskins.
Landry is similar to Harper in that he is a physical safety and loves hitting people. The Saints defense would not miss a beat in the run game with Landry in place of Harper.
The best part is that Landry is just as good in coverage as he is in run support. He would be able to hang in Spagnuolo's defense and would contribute in the same ways that Harper has since joining the Saints in 2006.
The negative side of Landry is that he has been injured in recent seasons, playing only 17 games over the past two years. However, the Saints have taken chances on injured players in the past and they turned out just fine (i.e. Drew Brees).
Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Denver Broncos
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The New Orleans Saints need some help in the interior of their defensive line, and Brodrick Bunkley could be an answer to the Saints' problem.
New Orleans brought in two big names last offseason at the defensive tackle position, but neither played well in 2011.
Both Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin were signed last year, and they were supposed to give the Saints one of the most dominant lines in the league.
However, Rogers and Franklin failed to show up in 2011 and both are free agents in 2012. The Saints may let both walk, but I would expect them to bring back one of the two guys.
New Orleans should also pursue Denver Broncos tackle, Bunkley.
Bunkley was instrumental in the good defense that played in Denver in 2011.
After spending five years with the Philadelphia Eagles, Bunkley signed a one-year deal with the Broncos last offseason and met expectations.
Bunkley played in all 16 games last year and had one of the best seasons of his six-year career.
The Saints need to add some bulk to their interior defensive line, and at 6'2" and 306 pounds, Bunkley brings that to the table.
Bunkley is also able to eat up blockers for the linebackers and get after the ball carrier. In 2011, Bunkley grabbed 43 tackles and 33 of those were solo tackles.
Just for comparison's sake, Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions only had 36 tackles in 2011, and 26 were solo. Suh is regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in the game, and Bunkley put up much better numbers than Suh in 2011.
The Saints have needed a dominant defensive tackle for years, and Bunkley may be able to give them their wish.
Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills
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The New Orleans Saints have two receivers who are set to hit the free-agent market in 2012.
Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are going to be unrestricted free agents, and both have played imperative roles with the Saints in recent years.
Colston has already said that he will not be offering the Saints a discount, and he is going to be one of the premiere free agents at the wide receiver position.
I believe that the Saints will need to bring back at least one of these guys, and they also need to target free-agent receiver Steve Johnson.
Johnson is a unique receiver. He has the size and hands to be a threat in a similar way that Colston is for the Saints. Johnson can also get open downfield in a way that Meachem does.
The ideal situation for the Saints would have to be that they are able to keep both Meachem and Colston and not have to worry about bringing in other receivers. Quarterback Drew Brees places a lot of value on keeping the pass-catchers consistent, and I am sure that he wants both of his guys back in 2012.
However, the more realistic thought is that one of the two guys will not be with the Saints next year. If that is the case, then Johnson is more than a viable replacement for the Saints.
Johnson has accumulated over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last two seasons and could probably put up bigger numbers in New Orleans.
Fred Davis, TE, Washington Redskins
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Fred Davis is a great tight end for the Washington Redskins, and he has not come anywhere close to meeting his full potential.
The New Orleans Saints already have a Pro Bowl tight end in Jimmy Graham, but they could use a solid No. 2 tight end.
The Saints' current back-up tight ends consist of David Thomas, Tory Humphrey and John Gilmore, all of which were injured at some point during the 2011 season.
New Orleans needs a consistent tight end behind Graham, and Davis will be more than enough to fill that spot.
In 2011, Davis caught for 796 receiving yards in only 12 games.
The one problem with Davis is that he has a few character issues. He missed the last four games of the 2011 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
However, that should not be a problem in a locker room that is led by All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees.
Davis is a playmaking tight end similar in size to Graham, and he has the skills to be a force in the league.
If the Saints were able to add Davis to Brees' arsenal, then there may not be a team in the country that could stop the Saints offense.