The last two years have been brutal for the standpoint of high profile Saints players in the final year of their contract. The Saints have been able to retain some key parts (Brees, Colston etc) while losing other key players (Goodwin, Nicks, Meachem, Porter to name a few). This year's offseason is not quite as brutal from that standpoint and as fans we can go into it with a little less anxiety about the expiring contracts the Saints have to deal with. There's still a few players that are at high risk of getting cut due to the cap situation (Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper) but for now they are under contract. The restricted free agents are a little scarier because they can entertain offers from other teams and it would be hard for the Saints to match. The four guys the Saints have are all undrafted, too, which means they would get no compensation for them if they tender them at the lowest amount.
Here are the list of players in order of importance:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
1. Jermon Bushrod, LT: Bushrod is by far the most important player with an expiring contract to retain. He protects Brees' blind side, he's been to the last two Pro Bowls (even if it's fairly easy to argue the second one isn't deserved) and the Saints don't have anyone behind him they can trust to come in and be a solid 16 game starter. Bushrod may not be elite but he's a very reliable and serviceable starting left tackle in the league. The big question is whether someone will throw stupid money at him or not, which the Saints obviously couldn't compete with given their cap status. I do think Bushrod wants to return, though, so a hometown discount may apply. I do think his credentials will show him more money elsewhere, though, so it's really 50-50 if he returns. The Saints will have a massive hole to fill if he leaves.
2. Courtney Roby, WR/ST: There should be no reason why Roby won't return. He loves the team and it's fans, we love him, and he's an inexpensive veteran. He's also by far the best player on the Saints' special teams and a captain. This should be a no brainer for both sides. He stays.
2. Elbert Mack, CB: The Saints are very weak at CB depth and Mack was one of the very few players in the defensive backfield this season that played well. He really came on late and I liked what I saw from him. I'd like to see him return as a reserve and I think he can be had on the cheap. He stays.
3. Chase Daniel, QB: If Daniel can't get a starting job somewhere, which I doubt he will, he'll probably just come back to New Orleans and back up Drew Brees. He knows this system like the back of his hand and should something ever happen to Drew I feel decent about Daniel as a backup. He stays.
4. Jonathan Casillas, LB: In a 3-4 system he would probably be a middle linebacker, and the Saints will need backups behind Lofton and Hawthorne at that position. I still think Casillas has some promise but he might opt for a change of scenery. The Saints may decide to look elsewhere for depth, too. Still, he's a decent cover guy and he hits hard, so his ceiling is high. His major weakness remains play recognition and instincts. Like Bushrod, I think it's 50-50.
5. Sedrick Ellis, DT: With the 3-4 system change he is almost certainly a goner, especially considering the fact that he's fallen completely on his face the last three years after starting off his career with such promise. I'm sure he'll be looking for a decent sized contract, too, which I know the Saints will want no part of. He's gone.
6. Turk McBride, DE: He's a decent run stopper, rusher and situational guy but he's been playing on one leg for two years now and always seems hurt. I wouldn't rule out seeing him in camp because he won't cost much but I'd hate to see the Saints counting on this guy again in 2013. I've seen enough to know this guy can't stay healthy. I think he doesn't return.
7. Devery Henderson, WR: One of my all time favorite Saints is still a decent player but his speed is no longer his main asset. He doesn't stretch the field like he used to and he's an afterthought when Drew Brees drops back to pass. The emergence of Joe Morgan has all but sealed Henderson's fate, and I wouldn't be surprised if he retired after struggling to make another team this offseason. Give him credit for lasting much longer with the Saints than anyone ever expected, though, he carved out a nice career for himself. He's gone.
8. Scott Shanle, LB: He'll try to pick up with a team, but bridges have been burned with the Saints. Like Henderson, though, he had a nice tenure and should be remember as a valuable player during his time with the team. He's gone.
9. Ramon Humber, LB: If the Saints are relying on him as a backup again, I'll be worried. He's a decent special teamer, though, so maybe he'll return. I don't view him as necessary by any means. I don't think he returns.
10. William Robinson, T: He would never have been on the roster if not for the multitude of injuries at the tackle position, so hopefully that doesn't replicate itself in 2013. He may be a camp body but I don't think he makes the team next year.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
1. Brian De La Puente, C: He has emerged as a surprise quality starter. His run blocking in particular has been outstanding and he's matured into a key player on the offensive line. Keeping him is a must as he's already a very good player that's continuing to develop. He was an undrafted rookie, so if the Saints tender him low another team could sign him to a huge deal and it would be hard for the Saints to match AND they would get nothing in return for him. So they might want to tender him at a higher level. Still, centers don't often command big money on the open market so the Saints may have to pay him a little bit more than they want but should be able to keep him. He stays.
2. Junior Galette, DE: Rumors are Galette may be used as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. I know Martez Wilson for sure fits that profile but I'm not sure on Galette. We'll have to see. Still, he's one of the Saints' budding young defensive players and I have to assume they'll do what is necessary to bring him back because he's a reason for this schematic change. He stays.
3. Chris Ivory, RB: I know that Ivory does not want to return to the Saints, as he wants a shot at more reps and more playing time. Ivory showed again last year in limited action that he's a very tough runner. If the Saints trade Mark Ingram I could see Ivory sticking around. If not, I think Ivory will sign elsewhere and beg the Saints not to match. I have a hard time envisioning him back unless the Saints trade either Thomas or Ingram. Still, the ball is in the Saints court slightly with him being a restricted free agent. I think they'll tender him, but again if he gets a big contract on the open market the Saints are unlikely to match it. I believe he won't be a Saint next year.
4. Justin Drescher, LS: He's been pretty good and reliable. I'd be shocked if he's not back in black and gold. He stays.
Who do you think the Saints will lose of this group?