The New Orleans Saints do not figure to make any huge moves in the NFL's 2013 free-agent market. Instead, they will likely make cost-effective signings that receive little praise nationally but will prove more than wise come January and February of 2014.
With the Saints still thought to be approximately $3 million over the projected 2013 salary cap ($123 million), the team has to make a cut or two, or restructure a few more contracts simply to be in the green for 2013. That is why the team is unlikely to make any significant splashes in free agency.
That said, the team will likely pick up a few quality veterans who come at a discount. Here are the most likely targets.
The Saints would be wise to try to find a player who can play center in the event that Brian de la Puente gets hurt, or, heaven forbid, regresses more than he did a season ago.
Of course, this all assumes that de la Puente returns to New Orleans in 2013. As a restricted free agent, the odds are high that he will return.
Mike Pollak is a young player who could develop into an effective backup guard/center. He probably could become a better starter than de la Puente if given the opportunity.
At Arizona State, he was an elite center prospect. In Indianapolis, he started at left guard before a new front office, including head coach Chuck Pagano, took control. Sean Payton could almost certainly get the most out of Pollak.
Likely Contract: Two years, $1.2 million ($600,000 per year)
With Jimmy Graham and Michael Higgins as the only tight ends on the Saints' roster, it appears likely the team will sign a veteran tight end in free agency.
It will likely be looking for a player who can play a versatile role like the departed David Thomas. Leonard Pope is a physical player who excels as a versatile "move" tight end. He can be placed as an H-back, wing tight end, or flexed out as a receiver.
Pope seems to have every attribute the Saints look for in a tight end. And he will be a fairly inexpensive signing for Mickey Loomis and Co.
Likely Contract: Two years, $4.0 million ($2.0 million per year)
The Saints could use an upgrade at both offensive tackle spots.
However, if left tackle Jermaine Bushrod re-signs, the team will have incumbent right tackle Zach Strief, Charles Brown and Marcel Jones battling for one starting spot. But if Bushrod leaves (which seems like a fair assumption), Brown, Jones and a possible free-agent signing would likely battle for the left tackle spot.
The player who comes in second would likely take the right tackle job. Tyler Polumbus is a free agent who would be a fine addition as part of that competition.
He gave up 5.5 sacks for Washington a season ago, having to block for an enigmatic rookie quarterback. Polumbus, though, has the natural athleticism the Saints desire in their tackles. In fact, he is a perfect fit for the Saints' offense.
Likely Contract: Two years, $3.0 million ($1.5 million per year)
For years, I've said that Malcolm Jenkins was Charles Woodson 2.0. Unfortunately, to this point in his career, Jenkins has not lived up to that billing.
Woodson has rotated between corner and safety throughout his career. No matter where he lined up, though, he has made a habit of making plays. Even at age 36 in 2012, Woodson maintained a level of play that is almost unrivaled.
He had a collarbone injury that cost him nine games in 2012, yet he still had 1.5 sacks and an interception. He is also great against the run.
And Woodson, a future Hall of Famer, could mentor and teach Jenkins the tricks of the trade for a year or two.
Likely Contract: Two years, $12 million ($6.0 million per year)
Brodrick Bunkley might be able to play nose tackle for the New Orleans Saints. But he's definitely not the future at the position.
The Saints could bring in Isaac Sopoaga from the San Francisco 49ers and kill two birds with one stone. Of course, the primary reason to do so would be to gain a preeminent nose tackle. Doing so would also weaken a conference rival who looks poised to dominate the NFC for the next 10-plus years.
Anything the Saints can do to weaken the 'Niners should be considered a must. To that end, it may cost a couple extra pennies. But the extra pennies may well be worth it.
Likely Contract: Four years, $25 million ($6.25 million per year)
The five free agents previously listed, plus re-signing the following Saints, will make Sean Payton's squad a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2013.
RB Chris Ivory
C Brian de la Puente
LB Jonathan Casillas
CB Elbert Mack
OG Eric Olsen
QB Chase Daniel
LS Justin Drescher
Free agent lists and previous contract Info used to determine new contracts courtesy of Spotrac.com.