The New Orleans Saints enter free agency with important players to sign and not nearly as much money as they would like.
Difficult choices and sacrifices are almost certain to be unavoidable this offseason with quarterback Drew Brees, offensive guard Carl Nick and wide receiver Marques Colston among other free agents looking to either re-sign or depart for new pastures.
The priority should be to keep as many pieces in place as possible on the NFL’s best offense while affording themselves enough financial mobility to tend to a defense that requires upgrades at key positions.
Amid the confusion over the situation and the questions surrounding who should be retained, the Saints should make a forceful effort to retain former first-round draft pick Robert Meachem, even if at the expense of the more proven Colston in order to improve the team as a whole.
There is a reason that the receiving corps has remained largely intact and unchanged over the course of head coach Sean Payton’s tenure in New Orleans: complexity.
Outside of the revolving door that was the tight end position—of course this was before Jimmy Graham exploded onto the scene in his second NFL season—and the plethora of running back options, the guys running routes have been relatively the same.
By the same token that critics are able to label some guys “products of the system,” some players simply cannot understand the system enough to be productive. The most similar scenario would have to be Chad Johnson—yeah, no more Ochocinco—in New England. Johnson just could not adapt well enough in his first year to supplant targets less talented than himself (i.e. Deion Branch).
This offense is entirely dependent upon the chemistry of Drew Brees with his given array of targets and their complete knowledge of the system.
With very little room to maneuver the New Orleans Saints find themselves in a very unenviable situation this offseason.
Cornerstone players Drew Brees, Carl Nicks and Marques Colston are out of contract and looking for long-term financial security.
Brees has publically stated that he would be willing to agree to a deal specifically structured in a manner to give the club the best chance possible of retaining both Nicks and Colston, but his willingness to do so has apparently not facilitated talks as hoped.
ESPN reports that the two sides are still ways apart which only becomes a larger problem as the March 5 deadline to apply the franchise tag looms.
The overwhelming feeling is that Brees will likely be signed to a long-term deal, given his leverage over the Saints, and, in order to avoid being franchised tagged himself—which would make the most probable scenario—that Nicks will be tagged and Colston allowed to test the market.
The team may eventually come to a long-term agreement with Nicks following the deadline, but Colston has made it known that he will not be taking a hometown-discount to stay in New Orleans.
This 2012 wide receiver free agency class is one of the more deep ones in recent memory. Pending further negotiations, qualifying offers and the use of franchise tags, prominent players such as Mike Wallace (Steelers), Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs), Vincent Jackson (Chargers), Brandon Lloyd (Rams), Steve Johnson (Bills), Wes Welker (Patriots), DeSean Jackson (Eagles) and the Saint’s very own Marques Colston among other could all potentially find themselves searching for a new home.
Unfortunately the current cap situation and continuing contract talks with key players will prevent the New Orleans Saints from pursuing any of those specifically mentioned.
When forced to investigate the second tier group of those available, you find no real option of better value than Robert Meachem. Meachem has never met the expectations of a first-round pick, but in an offense predicated on spreading the ball to a wealth of receivers, his lack of great statistical success proves an advantage.
This is simply because he can be retained for a number fitting of his value, a situation only improved if he becomes a higher priority receiving target by way of Colston’s departure.
Players like Pierre Garcon (Colts) and Mario Manningham (Giants) will be looking for sizeable contracts greater than their own true value and will likely receive just as much from receiver starved teams.
Despite Meachem’s statistical regression over the last three years, the receiver did prove he could produce—or step up—in the absence of the injured Lance Moore back in 2009 when he logged 722 yards on 45 receptions and tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns—nine with Colston.
The term “franchise quarterback” is too often thrown around in the NFL. It is applied to good but not great players, rookies who have yet to play a down, one-year wonders and mediocre, very replaceable, signal-callers on awful teams.
How big a particular quarterback’s paycheck is, the round they were selected and/or the fact that they have no one talented enough to challenge them for a starting berth should not constitute such a label.
In reality there are only three or four players worthy of the title which definitely includes Drew Brees—and most certainly not Ben Roethlisberger.
Brees’ game is predicated on spreading the ball around to a number of receivers. Like Peyton Manning prior to injury and Tom Brady, he is a quarterback capable of making the cast around him perform at a level much greater than the sum of its parts.
Will I go as far as to say that his options are not talent? No, but I do not think many of them would be successful without Brees at the helm.
This goes especially for receivers Lance Moore and Devery Henderson who at around 5’10” each profit considerably from having the most accurate quarterback in the league to throw them the rock. Most quarterbacks simply could not deliver the ball through the tight windows required to take full advantage of their abilities.
Returning to the focus, Brees does not require great receivers to be productive, but he does deserve the quality cast and depth around him to be maintained as much as possible.
The prospect of losing Marques Colston, his longest tenure and most trusted option over the six seasons, would be bad enough, but he does not need to lose yet another receiver with whom he has built four years of chemistry as well.
Robert Meachem has the best combination of physical tools of any wide receiver on the roster. Yes, I realize Jimmy Graham is a complete freak of nature given his size, speed, agility and soft hands—which is why I was specific in terms of position—but Meachem can flat out fly.
Coming out of college, Marques Colston and Lance Moore ran times of 4.55 and 4.52 as compared to Devery Henderson and Meachem, who posted times of 4.37 and 4.39.
In truth, the 40-yard dash is much better a tool to boost draft stock than one to predict NFL success—something that becomes clearly obvious comparing each pair’s of stats up to this point—but that still does not detract from the potential that come with serious wheels.
Meachem (6’2”) is at least three inches taller than Henderson (5’10”) and the second tallest wide receiver after Colston (6’4”) without consideration given to the inexperienced, unproven and seemingly injury-prone Adrian Arrington (6’3”).
The thing is that Meachem came into the NFL as an incredibly raw, albeit physically gifted prospect. He did not even break 500 yards receiving until his third and final year at Tennessee.
Again he has not lived up to the expectations of a first-round selection, but in truth he probably never should have been one to begin with and should no longer be assessed based on that history.
The learning curve has been long, but if given the opportunity to be the second or third option out wide at 27 years old in what will be his fifth season, we may be pleasantly surprised.
He has all the tools, and if Colston leaves, Drew Brees will need a proven option outside of Graham that exceeds 6' in order to completely open up the passing game and create preferred matchups.