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Fleur-De-Lis Fever | Saints Window Of Opportunity Is T-Minus Three Years

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IJune 14, 2009

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees #9 of  the New Orleans Saints discuss play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a week-two NFL game on September 16, 2007 in Tampa, Florida.  The Bucs won 31 - 14.(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The term "window of opportunity" is often associated with either a sense of urgency or desperation. This term is often used when discussing talented teams or players who have yet to win a title. 

Whether it's age, free agency, the opposition or the team's talent, there are a number of factors that decide a team's or individual's window of opportunity. 

The truth is that not every talented team or every great player will win a championship. 

Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls prevented a number of great NBA players from winning a title. 

John Stockton, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley are among a group of great players whose window of opportunity coincided with the prime of Jordan's career.

Whenever we have the discussion of the greatest players to never win a Super Bowl, Dan Marino's name is often the first one to pop up.

Marino lost his only Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl XIX to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. Since that was only Marino's second season, many thought he would certainly reach the Super Bowl again.

However, fellow 1983 draftees Jim Kelly and John Elway would combine to win nine AFC championships from 1986 until 1998, the year before Marino retired.

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Elway nearly finished his career without a championship as well. Elway's window of opportunity seemed be permanently shut closed after being blown out in his first three Super Bowls. 

Elway's window was re-opened with the arrival of RB Terrell Davis. Elway finally won his championship when he had a running game to complement his enormous passing ability.

The window of opportunity now applies to the New Orleans Saints. If the Saints are going to win their first ever championship, then they need to do so within the next three seasons.

A look at free agency tells the whole story.

By the end of the 2011 season, many of the Saints' core players will be eligible for free agency. 

It all starts with quarterback Drew Brees

He signed a six-year, $60 million contract three years ago and will command big dollars in 2012, even if he gives the Saints a hometown discount.

Brees is 30 now and will turn 33 when he becomes a free agent.

Even if Brees re-signs with the team, several of his weapons will be too expensive to keep.

Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, Robert Meachem and Jeremy Shockey will all be free agents in 2012.  None of these players have ever tested the free agent market and may be tempted to do so.

Regardless, the Saints will not be able to afford all four of these players. 

That's not all for the Saints' offense. 

In 2011, young building blocks Adrian Arrington and Carl Nicks become restricted free agents. Because of the rules of restricted free agency, they will likely sign one-year tenders and become unrestricted free agents in 2012.

Whether it's an inflated cap number or free agency, the contracts of several defensive players play a role in the Saints' window of opportunity also.

Defensive backs Randall Gay and Tracy Porter will both be unrestricted free agents in 2012. 

Linebacker JoLonn Dunbar and defensive end DeMarrio Pressley will be restricted free agents in 2011 and likely will become unrestricted free agents in 2011.

Then there's defensive end Charles Grant.

Unless Grant ends four years of under performance with new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Saints may cut him before he becomes a free agent in 2014. Grant is scheduled to count $8.55 million against the cap in 2012 and $11.55 million against the cap in 2013.

Keeping the Window Open

In 2012, Drew Brees, age 33, could conceivably still have three to five good years left.  He would be the biggest offseason priority.

If the Saints want to keep this window open longer than three years, they are going to have to draft and develop good, young players. 

Players picked in the second half of the first round often sign for five years at just a few million dollars per season.  Players further down in the draft are locked up for three or four seasons at a price at or near the league minimum.

Young wide receivers Adrian Arrington and Robert Meachem should be cheap enough to re-sign and replace Marques Colston. They will just be entering their prime in 2012 as fifth- and sixth-year wide outs.

Over the next few seasons, I expect the Saints to make the offensive line a big part of their draft priority. 

Not only could they be losing Carl Nicks, but every other starting lineman other than Jon Stinchcomb will be a free agent between now and 2012.

Defensively, the Saints will need to focus their draft priorities on the outside.

They will need to focus on replacing veteran defensive ends Grant and Will Smith and outside linebackers Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle. 

Smith's contract situation is similar to Grant's. He will count more than $6 million against the cap every year between now and 2014.

Fujita and Shanle will both be 31 win they become free agents in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

The mere fact that the Saints are in the "window of opportunity" discussion shows how talented and capable they are. Now is the time to cash in before that window slams shut.

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