State of the Saints

(Above) Mark Ingram II, one of several players leaving the Saints this off-season.

The team plays it smart in spite of an electrifying NFL off-season, and they are still the favorites to win NFC South.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

(Above) Mark Ingram II, one of several players leaving the Saints this off-season. The team plays it smart in spite of an electrifying NFL off-season, and they are still the favorites to win NFC South.

Stefan Muro, Reporter

Before being traded to the Oakland Raiders, superstar wide receiver and Madden cover athlete Antonio Brown was rumored to be high on the Saints’ radar. After the trade finally went down and rumors ceased, fans are expecting the front office to sign a big name that could take the team to promised land. Although the team has lost some important players, they kept some key players and made smart moves in hopes to attract star players.

The biggest loss of the Saints’ offseason thus far is running back Mark Ingram II, who joined the Baltimore Ravens. The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick left New Orleans as a two-time Pro-Bowler and the franchise’s career rushing leader, with 6,007 yards in eight seasons. The 29-year-old running back took to Instagram and posted “I BLEED BLACK AND GOLD FOREVER!! THANK YOU, NEW ORLEANS, FOR EVERYTHING!!” That Friday, he signed a three-year $15 million deal with the Ravens.

Not long after losing Ingram, the Saints signed another 29-year-old running back, Latavius Murray. Like Ingram, the former Minnesota Viking is a very physical runner and will easily fulfill that power running role. Murray surpasses Ingram in speed, size and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He will create an interesting dynamic in the Saints’ running game because the veteran will clearly be the second string to the electrifying Alvin Kamara.

The Saints also lost tight end Benjamin Watson, 38, and three-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger, 32, to retirement. Both players contributed to 95 percent of the team’s total offensive snaps last season and won’t be easy voids to fill. However, the Saints signed yet another former Viking to fill Unger’s role. Nick Easton is a versatile offensive lineman who naturally plays guard, but inked a four-year $24 million deal to be the Saints’ new center.

On a further positive note, the Saints signed kicker Wil Lutz to a five-year deal worth $20.25 million dollars ($9.2 million guaranteed). This makes him the highest-paid kicker in Saints history and the third-highest in the NFL, behind Baltimore’s Justin Tucker and Green Bay’s Mason Crosby. Lutz connected on 28 of 30 kicks last season, surpassing Hall of Famer Morten Andersons’ best season with the Saints. Signing Lutz, along with players such as linebacker Craig Robertson and defensive backs Chris Banjo and Justin Hardee, further solidifies the best Saints’ special teams fans have seen in years.

Some would argue that an even bigger signing for the Saints is backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The team traded a third-round pick for him last season in hopes that he could be the predecessor to Drew Brees. Bridgewater chose to stay in New Orleans for a one-year $7.25 million contract that could add up to $12.5 million if all incentives are met. Shockingly, he chose to stay with the Saints instead of taking a multiple year offer from the Miami Dolphins — rumored to be up to $60 million — plus an opportunity to start for the team.

“I’m only 26 years old,” he said in a press conference. “The way I look at it is that I’ll have another opportunity to start in this league at some point. … I get to compete with and learn from a guy who is going to be a Hall of Famer (Brees), and I get to be part of a team that was one call away from being in the Super Bowl…”

After losing edge rusher Alex Okafor to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Saints quickly responded by signing former Patriot linemen Mario Edwards, Jr. and Malcolm Brown. These two signings aren’t blockbuster, but they bring much-needed depth to the defensive line.

Over the weekend, Brees and the Saints restructured his contract, which adds $10.8 million in cap space. After the signings made so far, this gives the team wiggle room to make one more splash before the upcoming draft. Rumors have it that the Saints are receiving visits from names such as Lions defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah, Raiders tight end Jared Cook, and Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert.