So, about the Saints not having any money to spend in free agency ...
New Orleans announced Tuesday night that it had agreed on a six-year contract with safety Jairus Byrd, a shocking twist to the opening hours of the NFL's annual frenzy. The top available safety, Byrd had been linked to a wide range of teams -- the Saints had not been part of the speculation until earlier in the day, when it was reported that Byrd was en route to New Orleans for a visit.
Once there, he signed a deal. A gigantic deal, to be exact, at six years and a reported $54 million with $28 million guaranteed. That makes Byrd the highest-paid safety in the league and the guaranteed sum is among the most lucrative for any defensive player.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan now has the luxury of pairing the talented Byrd with 2013 rookie Kenny Vaccaro at the safety positions for a duo that ultimately may be able to rival that of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas in Seattle. The Saints' D took great strides forward under Ryan's leadership last season, so expectations will be very high for 2014 in light of this addition.
How exactly the Saints pulled this off remains to be seen. They had cleared cap space in recent weeks by releasing Lance Moore, Will Smith and Roman Harper, among other moves. Recently, they began attempting to trade RB Darren Sproles, in a move that could free up another $3 million-plus. Fellow RB Pierre Thomas also may be a cap casualty in the near future, while several players may be approached to restructure their contracts.
New Orleans now appears to have benefited as much as any team, too, from the NFL's bump in the salary cap up to $133 million next season -- several million higher than initially anticipated.
Byrd would have upgraded just about any defense, hence the rumored interest from spots like Philadelphia, Washington, Miami and Cleveland. He should be primed to build on back-to-back Pro Bowl trips after landing in New Orleans. Ryan likes to push the envelope up front with his 3-4 defense, which will allow Byrd plenty of room to roam deep with Vaccaro capable of stepping up as an in-the-box weapon.
The market for safeties was as hectic as any other position on Tuesday. Several of those teams mentioned above signed safeties of their own, with Donte Whitner, T.J. Ward, Antoine Bethea and Malcolm Jenkins among those landing deals.
Byrd was the last big piece to fall at the position. The Saints deserve massive amounts of credit for jumping to the front of the line. Grade: A-minus. Yes, the contract is over the top. Promising any non-QB $28 million is borderline bonkers, and the Saints may live to regret that decision in a year or two. But in the immediate future, they'll boast an incredible pairing at safety. The team that landed Byrd was going to have to jump into the deep end to do so. No one could have expected that team to be the Saints.