The re-signing of Zach Strief was a big one for the Saints. It always blows my mind how much Saints fans dog him. To me he was clearly the best player on the line this season, or at the very least the most consistent. That's after having a borderline Pro Bowl worthy campaign in 2011. The offensive line now boasts the return of both Strief and Bryce Harris, so the tackle position feels more secure. And for what it's worth, the contract of Strief is totally manageable and fair. It's for 5 years and $20.5 million with a $5.5 million signing bonus. That means Strief counts a prorated $1.1 million against the cap season, plus his salary. Because his salary is 900k in year one, he'll only count $2 million against the cap. Further, if he faces a steep decline down the road, because his signing bonus is relatively low he can be cut at a decent cap helping number in year four and five. This was a big one, a re-signing I considered the offseason priority next to locking up Jimmy Graham.
The Saints have had a busy offseason so far. Here's a quick recap:
Acquired: Jairus Byrd, 5th Round Draft Pick (in Sproles trade)
Re-Signed: Strief, Ramon Humber, Shayne Graham, Keyunta Dawson, Bryce Harris, Trevin Wade
Franchised: Jimmy Graham
Tendered: Rafael Bush
Lost: Malcolm Jenkins (Eagles), Roman Harper (Panthers), Kenyon Coleman (retiring), Will Herring (Cowboys – maybe?), Jonathan Vilma (free agent), Darren Sproles (traded to Eagles), Lance Moore (released), Will Smith (released), Jabari Greer (released)
Still in limbo: Brian de la Puente, Parys Haralson, Luke McCown, Robert Meachem, Charles Brown, Jordan Pugh, Tom Johnson, Jed Collins, Joe Morgan
Based on what the Saints have done to this point the biggest needs on the roster remain in order of importance: a starting center, a starting cornerback, a starting fullback and a backup receiver. The Saints have already expressed interest in WR Sidney Rice and FB Erik Lorig. They also apparently set up a visit with CB Brandon Browner before he signed with the Patriots. So clearly the Saints view their needs as similar to the ones I just listed. This isn't rocket science people!
I still view Haralson, McCown, Meachem, Collins and Morgan as guys that could and should come back to compete in camp. I don't know than any one of those guys would be guaranteed a roster spot at this point, but they would certainly round out depth nicely and have a shot. In Collins's case I'm truly surprised the Saints would consider Lorig over him but perhaps they'll sign both to compete, or Jedidiah is asking for too much.
Center remains the big enigma. Will Brian de la Puente be brought back? If not, Jonathan Goodwin makes way too much sense. Or the Saints could target elsewhere. One thing I know is the Saints will want to draft for depth, not to fill a need. That's why they'll want to finish free agency feeling like they've got every position covered. So expect a fullback, a corner, a center and a receiver still need to be addressed soon.
After far as cap room, the Strief contract puts them right up against it, but they can still create room this year by signing Jimmy Graham to a long term contract and by re-structuring the deals of Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs and/or Marques Colston (which could possibly give them as much as $10 million in room combined).