The New Orleans Saints yesterday were able to sign one of their very best players to a new contract, before they begin their 2017 Training Camp for the upcoming season which officially starts tomorrow morning.
It was a move that should have barely made headlines over any other one of the many more important sports or Pro Football stories of the day, had it not been for the amount of money that the team paid out.
The fact that the amount was for "only" $615,000 was what made headlines -- since it is an absolute bargain by NFL standards, when considering the player involved.
That's because the player was 3rd year WR Willie Snead; one of the team's most vitally important players, who signed the exclusive rights free agent offer Monday, his new salary for the 2017 season.
So why is that such a big deal?
After all: the Saints signed their guy, and he gets paid the whole amount of money that they offered to him in the first place.
As the old saying goes --- "all's well that ends well", right?
That's where the problem (if you think that it really qualifies as a 'problem') comes in.
With Snead signing his ERFA tender yesterday, it means now that he will be protected both financially and legally should he get hurt while practicing or playing in games, as the team's first Training Camp practice in full pads comes along this Saturday.
But what it DOESN'T mean is that the Saints -- and I'm looking right at YOU General Manager Mickey Loomis -- still haven't offered Snead a new multi-year contract; to a player that has caught 141 catches for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns for the past two seasons and is expected once again to play a critical role in the offense this year.
If the Saints and Snead are unable to negotiate a multi-year deal, Snead will become a restricted free agent in 2018; although the team would still be able to match any offer that he would receive from any other NFL team during next year's 2018 NFL Free Agency signing period.
But it begs the question:
What the hell are the Saints waiting for???
Why even bother allowing it to get to this point, when you have one of the most young and talented stars in the NFL playing and producing in the way that Snead has; after you virtually signed him for pennies on a dollar after the 2014 undrafted free agent out of Ball State University was released from the Carolina Panthers Practice Squad (after an initial stint with the Cleveland Browns) near the end of the 2014 season.
Why not just make Snead a fair offer worthy of his achievements, and lock up one of your very best players long-term for the future seasons that still lie ahead?
As my good friend and well-respected NFL Draft / Pro Football analyst John Sigler of Canal Street Chronicles noted in his fantastic article a few months back: an ERFA tender is a rare, one-year contract similar to those given to more common restricted free agents. Only players with two or fewer NFL seasons qualify, and Snead may be THE "biggest name" to have this designation in recent memory.
Snead played last year on a $525,000 ERFA tender, making yesterday's new contract signing a very slight pay increase, though as Sigler points out: nowhere near what he could expect on the open market.
That ladies and gentlemen, is where the Saints front office has inexcusably "dropped the ball", in my personal opinion.
I'm not trying to take Saints management to task here, but merely pointing out the fact that it seems quite strange that the Saints have decided to take this approach.
Back before the NFL Draft in April, Loomis told reporters that he didn't think that securing Snead to a long-term deal would become an issue.
"I don't know that it's going to happen yet," Loomis said, "but I don't foresee any issues."
"He's here working and I don't anticipate issues with Willie going forward," Loomis said. "I'm excited that he's here. Look, he's been a good player, a good contributor to our team and expect him to be our team for a long time."
Okay, so then what's the hold-up? What is it that we're even waiting for at this point?
It never even had to come to this moment in time where we find ourselves now: with one of the sport of Pro Football's best young stars and an even more upstanding young man off the field and in the locker room where he is universally loved by teammates and coaching staff alike, criminally underappreciated and underpaid.
Perhaps the Saints appreciate Snead TREMENDOUSLY, but they sure haven't acted like it.
Sigler suggests that the Saints should offer Snead a long-term contract, perhaps with some numbers such as a four-year, $17.1-million contract with, 8 to $9 million of it guaranteed.
That Sigler notes, would come out to an average-per-year rate of $4.275-million; and it would make Snead the 29th-highest paid wide receiver in the NFL, slotting in between Jermaine Kearse (Seattle Seahawks) at $4.5-million and Julian Edelman (New England Patriots) at $4.25-million.
It would give Snead the compensation he so richly deserves, and not force the Saints organization to have to break open team owner Tom Benson's bank account next year when another NFL team potentially could force their hand.
As Pro Football Focus noted yesterday: Snead was one of the most dangerous receivers when lined up in the slot last season. Snead’s 56 receptions were the seventh most from the slot in 2016 and his 707 receiving yards ranked fourth among receivers with at least 32 targets from the slot. He was also efficient running routes in the slot, as his 1.89 yards per route run also ranked fourth.
PFF adds that Snead progressed well from his rookie season, improving on his overall grade of 79.9 in 2015 to an overall grade of 84.1, which ranked as the 16th best wide receiver last season.
Those are dizzying numbers for a young man who only left college a year early to feed his young wife and (at that time) his brand new baby daughter, which forced him to leave the Ball State University football program perhaps just a bit before he was truly ready to play in the NFL.
But trust me: NOBODY doubts that Snead is ready to play the sport of Pro Football now.
There are some that will argue that Snead is nothing more than just a "system WR" --- and isn't any more deserving of a big contract than any other WR that has played alongside QB Drew Brees over the years (like former WR Lance Moore, for example), and it's certainly a notion worthy of debate.
Whether or not you believe that's a fair or unfair assessment, is your call to make.
For his part, Snead has been very low-key when talking about the whole situation; and told reporters last month at Mini-Camp that he didn't anticipate any hard feelings between him and the team over a potential long-term contract, preferring to keep his "nose to the grindstone" and just play ball.
"The guys upstairs are handling it," he said. "My agent is handling it right now, so right now I'm just focusing on coming in and out of practice every day healthy. I'm just trying to attack this summer and get ready for training camp."
"I know it's going to get handled," he said. "It's going to take time, but I feel like we'll get it done sooner or later."
Well, sooner would actually be much better than later.
As Sigler noted in that article mentioned and Linked above: offering Snead a new multi-year, long-term deal now is the best bet if you're the Saints; since you can "strike while the iron is hot" --- and get him at a lower number than he will cost at this time next year.
Because you can bet your ass that there will be a whole handful of NFL teams that will come calling and start "blowing up" Snead's agent's phone IMMEDIATELY after the 2017 season is over in early January (or hopefully February), and not one a single one of those teams would think twice about trying to outbid the Saints in a "bidding war" for the 24-year old's services.
One important thing to remember: Snead could have turned this whole situation into something that would have essentially given the organization a "black eye", by making them look bad in the eyes of the public by holding out of Training Camp and the Pre-Season while demanding a multi-year deal -- but has chosen not to.
That speaks even further to Snead's great character and his commendable approach towards all of this, even more so.
As the remainder of the team's roster officially reports to Camp tomorrow, hopefully Mickey Loomis will pull Snead aside and tell him in a private moment: "Let's talk".
It would be the prudent thing to do. It would be the proper thing to do. It would be the smart thing to do.
And of course let's not forget from Loomis' viewpoint: the financially sound thing to do.
So let's get this done, shall we?