My idea of a productive offseason for the New Orleans Saints is fairly simple.
Re-sign/retain running back Mark Ingram, kicker Wil Lutz, defensive end Alex Okafor, linebacker Craig Roberson, strong safety Chris Banjo, defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, receiver Tommylee Lewis, cornerback P.J. Williams in the coming weeks, and do their due diligence in free agency. There are bargains to be had along the offensive line, and at receiver and tight end, all areas of need for the Black and Gold.
And, of course, there is the NFL draft April 25-27 which happens to be rich in defensive line and tight end prospects. There are bargains to be had.
If general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and the entire football operations follow my blueprint for success, the Black and Gold will be back knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door in September.
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The keys for me are to re-sign Ingram, a perfect complement to friend and running mate Alvin Kamara, and Okafor because of the pass-rush position he plays. Lutz is under team control as a restricted free agent and won’t be going anywhere.
I’m curious to see what kind of market develops for Ingram when free agency officially opens at 3 p.m. Wednesday. (Remember, teams and pending free agents can begin to negotiate deals starting Monday, legal tampering, if you will.) Ingram, a 29-year-old, two-time Pro Bowler, can handle steady work between the tackles, display an occasional burst, catch out of the backfield and hasn’t been run into the ground over eight mostly productive NFL seasons.
He’s hoping to jump up in class from his latest four-year, $16 million contract with the Saints. His market value has been calculated to be around $4.4 million a year, a figure Saints officials could certainly work into their $188.2 million salary cap.
The key is the guaranteed cash. Remember, all it takes is one team to fall in love with Ingram and the price could escalate.
My gut says if Ingram wants to continue playing ball in Payton’s offense, he can for several more seasons. AT THE RIGHT PRICE.
You may be wondering why I haven’t included backup QB Teddy Bridgewater on the Saints retention list. While I believe finding a suitable backup and heir apparent to Drew Brees is important, I just don’t think Bridgewater is that guy nor is it a sense of urgency. Unless, of course, Mr. Right comes along, then all bets are off. Maybe a year from now it will be.
Bridgewater may find better pay and a starting opportunity elsewhere in free agency. Then again, he may not. Neither opportunity currently exists in New Orleans. But he served a purpose in New Orleans as a one-year term insurance policy for Brees at a cost of $5 million base salary and a third-round pick in the upcoming draft.
Overall, I’d say it was win-win for Bridgewater and the Saints.
Now the time has come for Bridgewater to spread his wings and fly.
My advice to Ingram and Okafor is to see what the market bears but stay down on the farm and help the Saints win a second Lombardi.
That said, I suspect each will be part of the upcoming feeding frenzy and dash for cash.