March 2, 2008

Saints Ink CB Gay, DE McCray to Long-Term Contracts

SEC in the house: former LSU, Florida stars are first free agents signed by the Saints this offseason

The Saints have made their first two free agency additions of the open season on the third day of the open market.

Both Randall Gay and Bobby McCray are former SEC stars who are entering their fifth years in the league.

Two-time Super Bowl starter Randall Gay has signed a four-year, $17.8 million deal. Gay was injured early in Super Bowl XLII, while towering 6'6 McCray has signed a five-year million deal that contains escalators making the possible value $24.5 million.

Gay, a former Louisiana State starter, signed with New England as an undrafted free agent in 2004. Due to injury and performance, Gay was in the starting lineup by week 7 and started a total of 12 games, including three playoff games and the Patriots' Super Bowl win in February 2005. Gay was widely praised for a valiant performance against Terrell Owens in the Super Bowl.

Gay's second and third years were cut short because of leg injuries. He was limited to five games in 2005 because of an ankle injury and three games in 2006 because of a severe hamstring injury.

In 2007, Gay returned to the starting lineup but was replaced by Ellis Hobbs across from Asante Samuel in week three. Gay started only four games in 2007, recording three interceptions and because the Patriots' games were often blowouts this past season, he played significant time in passing formations. Like Samuel and current Saint CB Jason David, Gay is fast and quick but appears to be better suited for zone coverage than man. At 5'11, 190 pounds Gay has great size for a cornerback, but is better in off coverage and is not especially physical. At $17.6 million, Gay's contract is worth two million dollars more than Jason David's contract. Gay will have base salaries of $750,000, $1.5 million, $2.5 million, and finally $3.5 million in 2011.

Gay was in town to visit the Saints on Saturday and the team succeeded in locking him into a contract last night and this morning before Gay's scheduled visit in Tampa Bay on Monday. Gay is a native of Brusly, Louisiana.

McCray is a towering, lanky edge rushing specialist from the University of Florida who exploded in 2006 with 10 sacks. At 6'6, 265 pounds McCray is high and powerful and can simply overpower an ill-prepared tackle. McCray was only a seventh round pick by the Jaguars and has developed nicely. But his inconsistency has been a consistent issue with McCray and his motor seems best suited for a spot in a rotation, not a starter's job.

In 2006 McCray was charged with reckless driving and possession of a controlled substance, though he was vindicated of the possession charge because the hydrocodone pill he was carrying was prescribed by the team. Last season McCray was tendered at the first-round level, indicating the Jaguars' value. McCray held out and refused to participate in the team's offseason conditioning programs without a new contract. McCray eventually reported.

McCray has missed three games in four years, and has 22 sacks in his career, 10 in 2006 but only three in 2007. McCray had three tackles, a hurry, a tackle for loss and a sack and a forced fumble in the Jaguars' wildcard playoff win over Pittsburgh this past season. The sack snuffed out Ben Roethlisberger's two-minute drill drive in the final minute and the Jaguars won 31-29.

McCray is nevertheless big and fast with a skill set that would also fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. At under $5 million a year, the Saints appear to have found a situational weapon on defense.

The Saints had been intending to visit with DE Travis Laboy as well as they look for a third defensive end to replace the role that Renaldo Wynn held down last year. Wynn was versatile enough to play DE and spot duty at DT. McCray because of his size and huge wingspan could likely play inside on passing downs. McCray will also likely be used on special teams.

Gay and McCray are the first two outside free agents signed by the Saints so far, three days into free agency, though since the hours leading up to free agency the Saints have re-signed eight of their own and traded for middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

There is also some worry that the Saints may not be able to re-sign DE Will Smith to a long term contract. Smith is scheduled to complete his rookie contract after the 2008 season and will demand what may be the biggest contract in team history. McCray may be insurance against Smith's departure but at least in 2008 gives the team three high-powered pass rushers, much like the Saints' had in Smith, Charles Grant and Darren Howard in 2004 and 2005.

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