July 19, 2011

In the New Season, Continuity is King

The Saints have a daunting list of free agents to consider whenever free agency opens up.

With time compressing between the start of the new labor peace and the start of actual football, the ability for players to perform in a team's offensive or defensive scheme, without the benefit of an offseason's instruction, will be crucial.

At key positions like left tackle, strong safety, center, the intellectual components of the game are crucial.  Instincts and familiarity can make or break games.  The Saints have key free agents at those three positions.

Without the aid of an entire season's of minicamps, organized team activities, film sessions, positional meetings, or even access to playbooks (though many teams have reportedly distributed play books), players who join new teams will be hard pressed to learn.

Jermon Bushrod, Roman Harper and Jonathan Goodwin are each multi-season standouts for the Saints, Super Bowl winners and stable veterans at key positions.

To replace Bushrod and Goodwin on the offensive line, the Saints have a pair of unproven second year players to fall back on, 2010 second round pick T Charles Brown and 2010 fifth round pick C Matt Tennant.  In a game where a blown blocking assigned and injury to Drew Brees could end snuff out the Saints' season, would the Saints' dare turn to youngsters?

Bushrod and Goodwin have the benefit of seasons, training camps, road games and playoff wins blocking for Drew Brees.  Brown and Tennant have yet to complete a full offseason as Saints.

At strong safety, the Saints have no players under contract ready to step up.  Harper and his nominal replacements, Chris Reis, Pierson Prioleau, Matt Giordano and Usama Young are all free agents.  None are anywhere near Harper in terms of ability or the trust of Gregg Williams.

The strictures of a lost offseason - with an immediate jump into training camp - would seem to demand the Saints bring back players who are ready to play in the system, even if the salary cap is expected to drop under the new labor deal.

The same consideration of continuity also will make starting linebacker Scott Shanle, experienced at both weak and strongside, more valuable to the Saints than to any other team.

If the new system allows players entering their fourth year to be unrestricted free agents, then Carl Nicks would also stand up for a major payday.  Three fifths of the Saints' starting, Super Bowl XLIV winning offensive line could hit the open market.

At that point the Saints front office shouldn't be thinking about wins or losses or salary cap figures - but of the men who will be protecting Drew Brees on that first series in preseason.

Bucs QB Josh Freeman was injured on the sixth snap of the 2010 preseason.  Rams QB Trent Green in 1999, Steelers QB Charlie Batch in 2008, and Giants QB Eli Manning in 2010 were injured in their first halves of preseason openers.

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