We're about three weeks from the free agency window opening up, so I plan to talk more about this soon. In the meantime, we all know the Saints don't have a 2nd round draft pick and they are completely strapped for cash. Signing top tier talent for big money is probably not going to happen, so any free agents the Saints land will either be cheap or second tier talent. That doesn't mean we can't identify players out there that can help them and represent upgrades.
Here are five players I immediately think of. Most of these are aging vets that would come cheap, but age and injuries are the concerns:
1. Ed Reed, S, Ravens: Ed Reed has been the most consistently talked about player we all want. He's from the New Orleans area, and at 34 he's undoubtedly in the twilight of his career. Still, with 61 interceptions in his career and four last year he's still considered an elite ball skills safety and could give the Saints some much needed experience on the back end. Reed could retire but if he doesn't the most likely scenario is a return to the Ravens. You can't rule out that he'd return home for one last hurrah with the Saints, though. Don't forget Darren Sharper was 34 when he came to the Saints in 2009. Reed would likely command more money than Sharper did, so the Saints would have to hope for a hometown discount of sorts.
2. Derek Cox, CB, Jaguars: Cox is a young corner with a lot of upside and some nice ball skills. He's the one guy on this list that is not an older player and would be a nice fit in the defense's core for a longer period. He's been in the black hole that is Jacksonville, surrounded by poor talent, but in the right system he could blossom nicely. Cox is a polished and well rounded corner with good ball skills, including four interceptions last year and twelve in his four year career. He won't be one of the first free agents plucked, so the Saints may be able to sign him to a reasonable deal. He does come with durability issues, but I see that as a good thing from a competition to sign him and price standpoint.
3. Casey Hampton, NT, Steelers: Hampton in his prime is the blue print of what you would want to anchor your 3-4 at nose tackle. At 35, he is old and coming off a disappointing season where he was rebounding from a knee injury. Still, towards the end of the season as his knee improved he started playing better. Hampton could re-sign in Pittsburgh and it's believed he wants to play a couple more seasons. I see this as a perfect scenario for the Saints because he won't command much money on the market and he has that mammoth size you need to effectively handle two blockers over the middle. Hampton is a one trick pony but a necessary one if you want to do the 3-4 right. I'd like to see two nose players on the 53 man roster with Hampton being one of them. A veteran leader that can be vocal, help on the field some, and get another shot at a Super Bowl.
4. Nick Barnett, ILB, Bills: Barnett just failed a physical, apparently, so it's a health risk to be sure. He's also a liability in coverage, but a premiere run stuffer. While Curtis Lofton has one of the two interior linebacker spots on lockdown, I'm not sold on David Hawthorne and would like to see some competition for him or at the very least some depth as he was hurt much of the season. Barnett is 31 and has some health issues, which could drop his price, but he is a tackling machine that would give the Saints a huge boost in the tackling department, something they need desperately.
5. Andre Carter, DE, Raiders: He's 33 and coming off a miserable season with the Raiders. That said, he's a year removed from a 10 sack season in the Patriots' 3-4 system. He could come cheap and basically rebound from a down year with a bad team. I suspect Will Smith is a goner and it would be nice to have a veteran that can come in and play well as a starter.