The defending Super Bowl champions (can't wait to write that all year) will have a slightly different look next sure. Sure, the main players on the team like Drew Brees, Jonathan Vilma and Tracy Porter will be back, but a few Saints mainstays will not.
With the start of the new league year and free agency, teams are now taking shape for the 2010 season. Besides tendering most of their restricted free agents, the Saints made a tough but not surprising decision to part ways with DE Charles Grant.
Grant was the longest tenured Saint, having been selected by the team in the 2002 draft. A couple of years ago, Grant was awarded a big contract, but he failed to live up to it. He's been one of the most passionate players in the organization. Unfortunately, he wasn't one of the most productive. Injuries have also taken their toll on him and he leaves the Saints with 47 sacks in eight seasons. With the uncapped year, the Saints were able to take his big contract off the books and not suffer any cap-hit consequences. Frankly, this move couldn't have come at a better time for the team.
There was a surprising move, however, during the first weekend of free agency. Four years ago, Sean Payton was hired as the Saints head coach and two of the teams first moves was to bring in Drew Brees and Scott Fujita as free agents. Both resurrected their careers in New Orleans, but surprisingly, Fujita is now part of the Cleveland Browns.
It turns out the Browns made a better offer than the Saints were willing to make, so he went where the money was and signed with the Browns to play inside linebacker. Its not a huge loss for the Saints, but the team will certainly need to address linebacker now in the draft or free agency. It would have been nice to have Fujita back, but fans and media were already speculating that the Saints would need an upgrade at linebacker, so with Fujita's departure, it opens that door sooner. The team has a nice group of young linebackers, but they still may look to the draft for Fujita's replacement.
In one odd twist thanks to the uncapped year and the Saints Super Bowl victory, the team was basically frozen as part of the Final 8 rule and not allowed to sign an unrestricted free agent until the team lost one of their own. Now that Fujita has moved on, the Saints can entertain free agents. Rumors are circulating on those that the team is interested in, and the focus is on defensive linemen. DE Leonard Little (who doesn't seem to fit in with this high character group of players and his signing would upset a lot of Saints fans), DE James Hall, DT Maake Kemoeatu and DT Jamal Williams are all rumored to be on the Saints radar. With them only allowed to sign one player, it will be interesting to see which direction they go.
Another player to watch is safety Darren Sharper. The Saints certainly want him back, but the safety market may be inflated now, with Antrel Rolle's deal with the Giants. The Saints will probably take more of a wait-and-see approach with Sharper. Remember, he wasn't signed in New Orleans until later in the free agency period last year. Another thing working in New Orleans' favor is that Sharper recently had knee surgery, so this may scare off other teams to bring him in for a visit.
The team is also preparing for April's NFL Draft, so they'll start to attend Pro Days and bring players in for visits. In an offseason that's slightly more than a month old, the defending Super Bowl champions have their work cut out for them.
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