2017 NFL Free Agency "officially" gets under way today at 3 p.m. Central time for the New Orleans Saints, and the question that is first and foremost on the minds of most (if not all) Saints fans is:
Are the Saints willing to spend the "big bucks" that are necessary in order to help land any one of the remaining premier names who are still available in this year's market; so that they can hopefully improve their current roster enough to get back to the NFL Playoffs in 2017 --- and hopefully the Super Bowl one last time before future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees retires for good?
Yesterday during the unofficial "tampering" period, a few names that the Saints were likely going to target for their defense were quickly snapped up by Baltimore and Jacksonville; as safety Tony Jefferson agreed to terms with the Ravens, while defensive end Callais Campbell signed with the Jaguars.
Both the Ravens and Jaguars are among the teams with the most amount of money under the NFL Salary Cap to spend on Free Agents, which is the biggest thing -- having just enough money to outbid other teams for the top names available -- that could prevent the Saints from acquiring "the best of the best" talent.
Some teams have A WHOLE LOT of money to spend.
The Cleveland Browns ($102 million of cap space), San Francisco 49ers ($93 million) and as we previously mentioned, those big-spending Jacksonville Jaguars ($71 million); occupy the top three spots on this year's list.
But nevertheless, those very same 3 teams combined for only a grand total of six wins last season; meaning that every single one of those teams have still plenty of holes to fill.
Unfortunately, those same 3 teams could also wind up getting a handful of the top names on the market (and already are).
Meanwhile on the complete opposite side of this year's Free Agency shopping bonanza, there are the so-called "bargain hunters" at the bottom of the NFL's Salary Cap list — the San Diego Chargers ($5 million), Kansas City Chiefs ($4 million) and the Dallas Cowboys ($3 million) — all of whom are going to have to rely much more on next month's 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia (April 29th through May 1st), to improve the fortunes of their respective teams.
So --- where does that leave the New Orleans Saints this morning as you read this; while stopping at Starbucks or McDonald's for your morning coffee and sausage egg croissant before heading off to work?
The Saints have approximately $30 million (27.4, to be exact), which puts them just slightly inside the "second tier" of teams with money to spend.
Which means that while the Saints probably can't afford to blow all of their money on any one particular remaining huge "superstar" (like New England linebacker Dont'a Hightower or Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye), they can still get a top-level player such as Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro offensive guard Kevin Zeitler; whom NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune Saints beat writer Herbie Teope reported last night was said to the player whom has been the target of interest of several teams that include New Orleans.
#Saints are among the teams interested in Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler, according to a source. Zeitler will be a free agent Thursday.
— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) March 9, 2017
Let's face it: the REAL improvement of this Saints team in time for the 2017 season is going to come in next month's Draft, period.
The Saints NEED defense, and outside of signing some "2nd tier" level free-agents in these next few days, the real help will come in the form of any immediate impact players that New Orleans can get from their first few Draft picks.
The biggest "wild card" to keep in mind beginning today and possibly for the next several weeks heading towards the Draft: the status of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and the likelihood that he ends up getting traded away by the Saints in exchange for a Top 20 pick --- to any number of teams that as of right now, the front-runners appear to be the Tennessee Titans, the Philadelphia Eagles, or the New England Patriots.
Landing a Top 20 pick in return for Cooks will allow the Saints to get not just one but TWO players in the 1st Round, who can come in and have an immediate impact on a Saints team that is on a "do or die", "make or break" mission to get back to the NFL Playoffs after a 3-straight year absence.
Anything less than making the Playoffs will be unacceptable to Saints fans in 2017, and the team and its front office knows it.
These next few months are the critical juncture to this team's ultimate success or failure ---- and it all starts today at 3:00 p.m.
Happy shopping, boys..........