What’s going on?
The Saints have nine players who were on the roster at the end of the 2013 season on the open market: right tackle Zach Strief, center Brian de la Puente, wide receiver Robert Meachem, left tackle Charles Brown, linebacker Parys Haralson, backup quarterback Luke McCown and defensive back Jordan Pugh. Will Herring, the 2013 special-teams captain hit free agency and agreed to a one-year deal with Dallas, but it was subsequently called off. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman hit the market, but he reportedly was planning to retire.
Before the start of free agency
One of four restricted free agents was tendered: safety Rafael Bush. That means Bush can accept an offer sheet from another team, but the Saints can match it if they want. Those not tendered are defensive lineman Tom Johnson, wide receiver Joe Morgan and fullback Jed Collins. Saints have in no way ruled out wanting to bring them back, however.
The Saints also re-signed two of their potential unrestricted free agents — linebacker Keyunta Dawson and kicker Shayne Graham — to minimum one-year deals. They had also signed their two exclusive rights free agents, tackle Bryce Harris and cornerback Trevin Wade.
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Safety Jairus Byrd: In his first five seasons in the NFL, all with Buffalo, this former second-round pick intercepted 22 passes, the most among players at his position and the second most among defensive backs during that time span. After signing a reported six-year, $54 million deal ($26.3 million of which is guaranteed), the Saints are hoping they’ll create more turnovers after finishing fourth from the bottom in takeaways in 2013.
Fifth-round draft pick: After trading running back Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, the Saints received a fifth-round pick for the upcoming draft. Assuming they use it, the Saints could get good value — recent picks from that round include guard Carl Nicks (2008, two-time All-Pro), punter Thomas Morstead (2009, one-time Pro Bowler), wide receiver Kenny Stills (2013, led the NFL in yards per catch) and cornerback Corey White (2012, started eight games last year, including the playoffs).
Linebacker Ramon Humber: The backup linebacker and special-teams ace hit unrestricted free agency but re-signed with the Saints on Friday wth a one-year deal. After ranking among the Saints’ leaders in special-teams tackles and recovering onside kicks in back-to-back weeks late in the season, he earned the ninth most Pro Bowl fan votes among special-teamers, though he wasn’t chosen for the game.
Running back Pierre Thomas: Many feared the Saints’ leading rusher would be released or traded in the face of tight salary-cap space. But the Saints gave the fan favorite a two-year contract extension Wednesday, meaning his deal should occupy less cap space this season.
Thanks for the memories
Running back Darren Sproles: Traded to the Eagles on Thursday, Sproles joins a backfield featuring the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Year (running back LeSean McCoy) and the quarterback who in 2013 posted the highest passer rating (Nick Foles). He’ll not be forgotten in New Orleans after setting an NFL record for all-purpose yards in 2011, his first year with the Saints.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins: Jenkins left in free agency for Philadelphia two days before everyone learned his old teammate Sproles was joining him. He helped the Saints win a Super Bowl at the end of his rookie season, and he ranked among the leaders in several defensive categories in 2013, though he’s admitted he’ll need to work on his tackling in Philly.