Free agency yields key returnees, and the price is right

The Saints’ latest venture into veteran free agency has been relatively uneventful. And, that is a good thing.

The Saints didn’t overpay for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and tight end Jimmy Graham. New Orleans brought back three former Saints, cornerback Patrick Robinson, offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Ben Watson.

New Orleans re-signed defensive end Alex Okafor and added safety Kurt Coleman, linebacker Demario Davis and backup quarterback Tom Savage.

The Saints have added to their depth at a reasonable cost. And, no bad contracts were handed out, like the ones given to safety Jairus Byrd and running back C.J. Spiller.

What the Saints have told us in free agency is that they understand the mistakes they made in the past and believe the current roster is talented enough to win a Super Bowl. The Saints’ list of quality players who are 28 years old or younger is quite impressive.

Cam Jordan and Mark Ingram are 28. Offensive tackle Terron Armstead is 26. Wide receiver Michael Thomas is 25. Left tackle Andrus Peat is 24. Linebacker Alex Anzalone, safety Vonn Bell, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins are 23. Running back Alvin Kamara is 22. Defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams are 21.

By patiently drafting well, the Saints are prepared to reap the benefits. The Saints are unlikely to draft a quarterback, preferring to find out if Taysom Hill, an undrafted free agent who was claimed off waivers from Green Bay, is the heir apparent to Drew Brees.

The ability of general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton to make the correct decision in choosing a Brees successor is critical. If at any time in the near future the Saints plan to trade up in the first round to select a quarterback, the price tag could be staggering.

The New York Jets, anxious to draft a quarterback, swapped first-round picks with the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets will now pick third and the Colts sixth. To move up three spots, the Jets sent the Colts two second-round picks in this year’s draft and a second-round pick in 2019.

When the deal was done, the Colts’ official Twitter account celebrated the news: “Pleasure doing business with you, @nyjets!” The deal was a pigskin fleecing if there ever was one.

It will be very difficult for the Saints to replicate the success of the 2017 draft. It was one of the top three or four drafts in franchise history. But a repeat of 2016 would be plenty good.

The Saints’ first three picks were Rankins, Thomas and Bell. In three years, the Saints have gone from a veteran team with bloated contracts to a young team with a very bright future.

An impressive transformation, it has been.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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