The New Orleans Saints have 15 players still technically on the teams' roster who are set to become free agents on March 12. Of those, four are restricted free agents. The other 11 are unrestricted, meaning they are free to sign with any team they choose.
The attempt here is to determine whether Mickey Loomis and his team of personnel people should "Sign" or "Pass" on each of the 15 players, given contract considerations and overall roster formation issues.
The Saints wisely avoided slapping the franchise tag on Jermon Bushrod by Monday's league-induced deadline. Of course to do so the team would have had to clear approximately $10 million more in cap space (the team is currently thought to be right around the threshold of $123.9 million).
It would then have been unable to sign any of the other 14 free agents of its own, nor could it sign anyone else in free agency. By not franchising Bushrod, the team has the freedom to work out a cap-friendly deal with him or find a cheaper replacement.
Considering Bushrod is markedly overrated, allowing him to walk and replacing him with a more cap-friendly player makes the most sense.
The Saints have fancied Jonathan Casillas since signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2008. His talent and potential have kept him in the Black and Gold longer than his production seemingly should have.
In the 4-3 defense, Casillas was a great fit as an outside linebacker, especially for the nickel package. In the 3-4 defense the team is transitioning to, however, there simply does not seem to be a spot for him.
Casillas does not fit at outside linebacker, where pass-rushing is the key determiner for playing time. Nor does he fit inside, where that set of 'backers must be excellent at shedding blockers and playing the run, which was a definite weakness of Casillas in 2012.
Chase Daniel has been Drew Brees' No. 1 backup since 2010. He's appeared in just a handful of games as a quarterback, though he has been used as the teams' holder on field goals in every game in that period.
His preseason quarterback resume has been impressive, but not enough to warrant serious consideration for a team to bring him in to start, at least not without serious competition. As a result, Daniel will likely be back with the Saints, once again as Drew Brees' trustworthy backup for yet another go-round.
At the present time, it seems Daniel is the heir apparent to Brees, whenever Brees decides his career is done. Daniel could be waiting a while.
Brian de la Puente burst onto the scene in 2011 after taking over for the disinterested veteran Olin Kreutz just two games into the campaign. He seemed like a revelation of epic proportions.
2012 wasn't quite as kind to the Cal alum. The entire offensive line took a giant step back, and the second-year starter was at least partially to blame.
Inside pressures and delayed blitzes often caused the integrity of Drew Brees' pocket to dwindle. That is mostly on the interior of the offensive line. Unfortunately for de la Puente, blame cannot be fairly placed on the guards playing next to him. Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans were mostly outstanding all year long.
Blame has to be placed on de la Puente. That said, he wasn't awful. He just regressed.
Can he recover? Yes. Will he? The Saints better hope so. He is one of the teams' four restricted free agents, meaning the team almost has to re-sign him.
Saints' long snapper Justin Drescher is yet another restricted free agent whose rights the Saints possess currently. His play has been more than adequate.
Expect the Saints and Drescher to work out an appropriate deal for his services as a special teams specialist.
Even before the Saints announced their intentions to switch to a 3-4 defense in 2013 and beyond, Sedrick Ellis seemed like a dead duck in terms of his remaining with the team.
Now that the team has decided to operate in Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme, there is a 99.9 percent chance Sedrick Ellis will be playing football elsewhere in 2013.
Junior Galette has always played defensive end in his NFL career, despite being considered slightly undersized for the position. Because of his size and electric burst, many assume he is the perfect fit for one of the open outside linebacker spots in the Saints' new 3-4 defense.
To some extent he may be a perfect fit. But as already stated, Galette has next to no experience dropping back to cover the pass or handling any of the other myriad of responsibilities that a 3-4 outside linebacker has on any given play.
In Rob Ryan's defense, Galette will be asked to hold the edge against the run. Galette couldn't do that very well as a defensive end. It's hard to imagine he'll do it any better as an outside linebacker. For that reason it seems Galette's future in New Orleans is as a rotation edge rusher.
Galette may decide he has a better future elsewhere. The Saints, though, hold the primary option since he is a restricted free agent. His limitations, however, figure to cost Galette some money and a starting job in 2013.
Devery Henderson is old (currently 31 years of age) and coming off his least impressive season since the pre-Brees era.
He pretty much had Joseph Morgan take his spot as the teams' primary deep threat by the halfway point of the 2012 season. In short, there just isn't much reason to think that Henderson will return to New Orleans as a player in 2013.
Perhaps he could retire and take on some other role within the organization. That seems unlikely at this point, though.
Ramon Humber had a brilliant three- or four-game stretch in the middle of the 2011 season that earned him another chance to play for the Saints in 2012. The veteran linebacker didn't even see the field, save for a few rare instances in the 2012 campaign.
In the teams' new 3-4 defense, similarly to Jonathan Casillas, there doesn't seem to be a spot for Humber. Unfortunately he may not latch on with another team either.
Chris Ivory is a talented but often injured running back with serious ball security question marks next to his name. There is little doubt that when healthy, Ivory provides great value to the Saints' running game (Just see the tremendous kick in the pants effort displayed by Mark Ingram in 2012 when Ivory hit the scene).
Unfortunately, his health and ball security issues seem to creep up at the worst of times. In a perfect world, the Saints would get something for Ivory. It's hard to imagine any team being desperate enough to trade for a back who is only equal to many of the average running backs in this year's running back draft class.
But placing a RFA tender at least presents that as a possibility.
Elbert Mack was brilliant in the second-half of 2012. It's too bad it took the coaching staff nearly that long to figure out he was one of the teams' best players in the secondary.
Mack excelled a season ago in zone coverage situations, but more than held his own when asked to play opposing receivers man-to-man. If re-signed he will likely be asked to do more of the man-to-man stuff.
His ball hawking nature, though, should be enough to keep him around at least another year.
It's kind of embarrassing even including Turk McBride in this piece. Who even remembered he played for the Saints a season ago?
If the Saints re-sign him, Mickey Loomis has either gone crazy or the whole "switch to a 3-4 and play good defense" rhetoric that has been put out so far this offseason is all a hoax. And really the only part of any relevance is the "play good defense" part.
McBride won't help the Saints defense improve, regardless of what scheme is employed.
William Robinson performed admirably when asked to fill in at right tackle as essentially a fourth option after being picked up from Atlanta's Practice Squad in November.
He projects as a nice backup option at either tackle spot going forward. He is an unrestricted free agent, but it's doubtful that many teams will be banging on his door this offseason.
The Saints could easily pay him a minimal salary to keep him around and continue to develop him.
It's rare when a veteran player causes a team to justify using a roster spot on him just so he can play special teams. Then again few players are so good on special teams that they literally force the team to keep him.
Courtney Roby is one such player. Though he presents almost no value as a receiver, he almost single-handedly won a game or two this past year with his efforts in the kicking game.
Some think Saalim Hakim, who was signed near the end of the regular season as a receiver/special teams player, could take Roby's spot and handle it well. Hakim could even fill in nicely a returner.
As a result, Roby is one of the toughest calls on this list. In fact, he's the only truly tough decision the Saints have this offseason among their free agent-to-bes.
Steve Spagnuolo did at least one thing right in 2012. He got Scott Shanle off the field after it became painfully obvious he could no longer perform at even a mediocre level in the NFL.
Though he's been part of a 3-4 defense in his past, there is zero reason to think the Saints make Shanle any kind of offer to return to New Orleans this offseason. That ship certainly has sailed through by now.
Then again, the Saints have done crazier things in the past.
Brian de la Puente will almost certainly be blocking for Drew Brees again in 2013. He's among seven current Saints who figure to be re-signed as free agents.
The Saints actually have fewer free agents as they enter the offseason than they had in previous seasons. With 15 players ready to hit the open market (or semi-open for the restricted free agents), the Saints have some important decisions to make.
In our projections, the team will re-sign just over half of their free agents. Eight will be re-signed and seven will be allowed to walk. Here are the comprehensive lists of each group:
OT Jermon Bushrod
LB Jonathan Casillas
DT Sedrick Ellis
WR Devery Henderson
LB Ramon Humber
DE Turk McBride
LB Scott Shanle
QB Chase Daniel
C Brian de la Puente
LS Justin Drescher
DE/OLB Junior Galette
RB Chris Ivory
CB Elbert Mack
OT William Robinson
WR/ST Courtney Roby