The New Orleans Saints entered the 2014 offseason with one of the NFL's most onerous cap situations. That didn't stop them from splashing a big-money contract on free-agent safety Jairus Byrd, and it apparently has not prohibited them from rewarding one of their own players.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the Saints and linebacker Junior Galette have agreed on a four-year, $41.5 million contract extension that features $23 million in guarantees:
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
#Saints LB Junior Galette’s extension is for 4 years and worth $41.5 million, per source. He’ll receive $23M guaranteed.9/3/2014, 7:42:40 PM
The extension will keep him in New Orleans through the 2019 campaign, which should encompass most of his prime. The 26-year-old was scheduled to hit the free-agent market following the 2015 season, but his below-market deal made him eager to sign an extension. Galette's current three-year, $7.5 million contract calls for only a base salary of $1.4 million each of the next two seasons.
Mike Triplett of ESPN NFL Nation shared some of Galette's comments following the news of his extension:
Mike Triplett @MikeTriplett
#Saints Galette: I'm content with what I got. But I feel like I'm gonna give em a discount.9/3/2014, 8:03:24 PM
His extension culminates a year-long ascent into the national conversation. An undrafted free agent out of Stillman in 2010, Galette largely played a bit role for his first three seasons, working as a situational pass-rusher on the defensive line.
The Saints' hiring of Rob Ryan and the subsequent installation of his attacking 3-4 scheme ignited a path to stardom for Galette, who moved to outside linebacker and became arguably the Saints' second-best defensive player behind Cameron Jordan. He set career highs in tackles (40) and sacks (12) while helping spur a surprisingly stellar New Orleans attack.
The Saints, who finished dead last in Football Outsiders' DVOA in 2012, became a top-10 unit by the same metric within a year. Much of the credit was attributed to Ryan and by proxy Galette, who became renowned for his unpredictability off the snap.
"They just kinda let me do my thing and trusted me, which I'm thankful for," Galette told reporters of his relationship with the team. "They trusted me to get to the quarterback, and that gave me more confidence in myself, that, ‘OK I can tweak a lot of things and keep getting better.'"
According to Pro Football Focus' grading system (subscription required), Galette was the ninth-best pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. His numbers were better than the likes of Mario Williams, Terrell Suggs and Ryan Kerrigan.
What helps Galette's cause is that he's not just a pass-rushing specialist. While certainly not an elite run-stuffer, he ranked about league average per PFF (subscription required) when judged against his contemporaries—more than good enough to make him an asset rather than a liability.
It will nonetheless be interesting to see how the contract is structured. The Saints' cap sheet became so cluttered that they were forced to part with longtime stalwarts Roman Harper, Will Smith, Jabari Greer and Jonathan Vilma to dump salary. Their moves since have signaled an all-in push for Super Bowl contention, adding Byrd on a hefty deal and keeping Jimmy Graham around on a long-term extension.
The stars-and-scrubs approach may work in the interim, but the contracts handed out to Byrd, Graham, Galette and others will lead to long-term concessions—probably in regard to depth. If Galette performs as he did a year ago, that won't be a problem. Given his pass-rushing peripherals throughout his career, that's the likeliest outcome.
But if he shows even the slightest regression, this could become an overpay.
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