BELIEVE IT OR NOT: A Look at a Few Rumors About the New Orleans Saints and Next Week’s NFL Free Agency

Photo by Spatms, Wikimedia Creative Commons

Although you’d never realize it from all the stories published within the past few weeks, the “official” start of the 2019 NFL Free Agency signing period isn’t for another six days. Free Agency begins Wednesday, March 13th.

However, as seems to be the case every year, invariably there are always stories that get written regarding the Black and Gold’s intentions in Free Agency, that are just nothing more than rumors; this morning here at Big Easy Magazine, we’re going to address a few of them.

So, sit back and enjoy your coffee as we carefully examine each of the rumors surrounding the team at the moment. We will try to give our best estimate — based on information from reliable sources — ahead of next week’s official start of Free Agency as to what is the truth about the Saints, and what isn’t.

RUMOR: The Saints are going to trade for Pittsburgh Steelers’ All-Pro Wide Receiver Antonio Brown

Photo by Paula R. Lively

Don’t waste your time putting an ounce of faith in this one. Would it be awesome to have Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas together in the same line-up for the Saints offense? Of course, it would. The Saints trading for Brown certainly is an “all or nothing” move that one can envision New Orleans making, especially given the way that their previous season ended in the NFC Championship Game against the Rams. The Saints are hell-bent on getting to the Super Bowl at all costs next season, and Brown definitely would help them get there.

But, as we explained to you a few weeks ago when word became available that Pittsburgh was willing to entertain all trade offers for the incredibly-talented but controversial 30-year old:

His “diva-like” personality is a turn-off for many teams, and the Saints Front Office brass has a reputation for having an extremely low tolerance for foolishness and stupidity, either inside their locker room or off-the-field.

When asked last week specifically about Brown, Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters that he hasn’t kept up with the Brown situation, other than what he’s heard and read from the media.

“No, and I wouldn’t tell you if we had,” Payton said. “Look, I’ve followed it a little bit like you guys have, and that’s really about it.”

Now granted: would Payton tell a “little white lie” to the media just to throw everyone off, and allow the Saints the opportunity to pull off a blockbuster trade without anybody else knowing about it until it actually happened? You better believe he would.

But as NFLNetwork Insider Ian Rappoport reported: the Steelers are asking for a 1st Round pick (which the Saints don’t have this year) in return for Brown, and unless Payton and the Saints are willing to give up their 2020 NFL Draft 1st Round pick for Brown, it’s a long shot that you’ll ever see him in NOLA.

As of now, the two biggest teams in the hunt for Brown’s services are the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. ESPN’s Adam Schefter noted yesterday that Pittsburgh intends to reach a deal with some team no later than tomorrow (Friday). You shouldn’t be at all surprised when Brown ends up playing the 2019 NFL Season somewhere out in California — where his very distinctive and unique personality would seemingly fit right in.

RUMOR: Saints Running Back Mark Ingram will re-sign with the team and remain with New Orleans

Photo by Wyatt Vaughn, JRNOLA

This rumor would be an absolute fact were it not for the likelihood that Ingram is expected to receive a few offers from a variety of other teams, most notably the Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles. Both are in dire need of brand new starting #1 RB for their respective offenses.

Ingram’s situation is another story that we covered previously here at Big Easy Magazine, and as we told you then: both sides have expressed a strong desire to maintain their relationship and come to terms on a new contract.

But ultimately, this is a decision that will rest with Ingram. He has to figure out whether he’d rather remain with the Saints and finish his career in New Orleans, or seek an opportunity for presumably more money and a more prominent role (where he wouldn’t have to share carries with Alvin Kamara).

Two weeks ago during a radio appearance on “The Rich Eisen Show,” Ingram told the famed radio host and NFL Network analyst that he still has many goals he’d like to accomplish before his career is finished, and if he’s able to do so, he’d prefer that it happens in New Orleans.

“I’m going into my ninth year, (and) I feel like I’m better than ever. I feel like my career’s still going up. I want to rush for 10,000 yards. Clearly, I want to win the Super Bowl. I just want to keep pressing forward, keep doing the best I can do and just control what I can control”, Ingram said to Eisen.

“I’ve been talking to the Saints. It’s kind of like a thing where they say they want me back, (and then) I say, ‘I want to be back,’ it’s just can we compromise on the value? Like I said, I’ve been there my entire career. It’s very rare that someone gets to spend their career in one place, and that would be something that would be significant. But at the same time, I’m not afraid to bet on myself. I believe in my opportunity.”

Based on those comments, you’d be led to believe that Ingram is leaning towards coming back to the Black and Gold. But as the old saying goes, “money talks, and bullsh*t walks”; if either Baltimore or Philadelphia (or some unexpected team) were to outbid the Saints for Ingram’s services (say for $5 million per season), the Saints could find themselves minus one of their starting RB’s.

Ingram’s current market value has been calculated at $4.4 million per year according to the good folks over at Spotrac, and he’s believed to be seeking a slightly higher average of $4.5 million, which is right around the amount that the Saints can afford (they’re currently $10.8 million under the cap).

I personally expect that Ingram will return to the Saints and try to help them finish off their goal of winning another Super Bowl. But money — especially a whole lot of it — has a strange way of changing a man’s mind; which is why in Ingram’s case, we might not know what he ultimately chooses to do until it actually happens.

RUMOR: The “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu will return home to NOLA to play for the Saints

Photo by Gage Skidmore

This is one that you can file under the category of “wishful thinking”; it’s actually the uber-passionate Tiger Nation fanbase of local college football powerhouse LSU — many of whom are also Saints fans and a part of the Who Dat Nation as well —  who are the ones hoping that the former LSU All-American defensive back, NOLA native, and Houston Texans starting safety will return home and sign a contract to play for the Black and Gold.

While I’d be the first one to tell you that you should “never say never” and that there is a slight chance that it could happen, the reality is that there are a couple of reasons why it probably won’t. The main reason is that the Saints aren’t necessarily concerned about their safety position, as far it being a team “need” (like a #1 tight end or a back-up defensive tackle), despite the recent release of veteran Kurt Coleman, who was let go after only one disappointing season.

The Saints are pleased with the progress of 3rd-year safety Vonn Bell at strong safety, and even though 2nd-year free safety Marcus Williams appeared to suffer from the dreaded “sophomore slump,” the coaching staff likes them as a young tandem. The Saints will also likely add a safety in next month’s NFL Draft. That’s not to say that the Saints wouldn’t possibly target another veteran safety on this year’s market (like recently-released and former Baltimore Ravens All-Pro safety Eric Weddle).

But it seems, at least for the moment, that the Saints want to keep their players throughout the secondary at a relatively young age. Depending on how you choose to look at it, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. That’s why the possibility of “Honey Badger” coming back home should never be ruled out. But given the money he’s likely going to command on a new contract (he’s reportedly seeking up to $10 million per season), it would honestly be out of the Saints’ price range.

Last but not least, Houston Chronicle beat writer Aaron Wilson reported the Texans have already made a preliminary offer to Mathieu, in an effort to re-sign him before he can field any other offers from prospective teams.

Bottom line: while it would be great to see the “Honey Badger” back home in Louisiana and in NOLA where he is beloved, the honest truth is that you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen. The Saints can’t really afford him, and to be completely honest:  chances are that he isn’t giving out any hometown discounts.

RUMOR: If the Arizona Cardinals put QB Josh Rosen on the “trading block,” the Saints are going to trade a draft pick for him

Some Saints fans might recall that Rosen was one of the top QB’s in last year’s 2018 NFL Draft Class, and the former All-American at UCLA (University of Calfornia-at Los Angeles) was the 10th overall selection by the Arizona Cardinals, who presumably chose him to be their franchise QB of the future.

But the Cardinals ended up being the NFL’s worst team (3-13) last season and ended up firing their head coach Steve Wilks, and hired former Texas Tech University head coach Kliff Kingsbury — who is noted for his ability to develop successful QB’s as a former QB himself — to take over the reins of the team.

As a direct consequence of their poor record, the Cardinals have the #1 overall selection in this year’s 2019 NFL Draft, which will be held next month in Nashville, Tennessee (April 25th to 27th). It’s said that Kingsbury and Cardinals brass are enamored with the University of Oklahoma QB and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, and are seriously considering taking him with their top pick.

That obviously creates a dilemma for them, and word spread throughout the League that if they, in fact, are serious about selecting Murray, it would mean that they’d likely be willing to make Rosen available in a potential trade with any other NFL team interested in acquiring him, to become their very own franchise QB of the future.

Naturally, the Saints came up on the list of potential teams since Drew Brees just turned 40 years old and is winding down the end of his brilliant career, and the idea of Brees tutoring Rosen for a year or two is certainly a logical one if you choose to look at it from that perspective. However, if in fact, the Saints have any interest in Rosen, they haven’t said anything in that regard, and as Sean Payton said in regard to the Antonio Brown rumor, he wouldn’t tell you even if they did have any interest.

If in fact, the Cardinals are serious (we’ll all find out for sure next Wednesday or maybe before) about dealing Rosen, the biggest issue at the moment seems to be compensation. The Cardinals are expecting to get back a 1st Round pick in return since that’s what it just cost them a year ago to get him. And there isn’t any question that he’s worth it.

There are some who believe Arizona might be forced to accept a 2nd and possibly even a 3rd Round pick for Rosen, which is laughable. A 22-year old All-American QB didn’t just suddenly become bad overnight. And while Rosen certainly had his struggles as a rookie last season, there isn’t any doubt that if he remains healthy, can become an NFL superstar in due time.

I personally don’t see this rumor having any validity to it unless of course, the Saints end up losing back-up QB Teddy Bridgewater (more on that coming up in a minute) to another team if he decides to leave to play for a bigger contract with another team. Then suddenly the Saints would be left with Taysom Hill as their #2 QB; which would get them by for a game or two, but clearly isn’t what anyone should consider to be a long-term option.

The Saints as we mentioned don’t have a 1st Round pick this year anyway, so even if there was a chance that they could land Rosen, it probably would end up costing them their 1st Round pick in next year’s 2020 NFL Draft. But if for some reason Arizona was willing to take a 2nd Round pick for Rosen in this year’s Draft, you’d have to imagine the Saints wouldn’t hesitate to give the Cardinals the #62 overall pick to go and grab him.

This all is contingent of course upon what the Cardinals ultimately decide, and whether or not they want Kyler Murray to be their QB of the future; or if they opt to stick with Rosen instead. Other teams such as the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins are also thought to be in the hunt for a new “franchise QB”, and if in fact the Saints were actually interested in trading for Rosen, they wouldn’t be the only team bidding for his services.

RUMOR: Saint backup QB Teddy Bridgewater will leave for greener pastures with another team – most likely the Washington Redskins

Credit: Phillip Petty III/Nick Boulet, JRNOLA

Bridgewater, as most Who Dats are aware, is also an unrestricted free agent who can negotiate with any team beginning next Wednesday once the 2019 Free Agency signing period formally gets underway, and like Ingram, the Saints would like to retain him — but only if they can afford to.

Bridgewater reportedly is being sought out by the Washington Redskins; who it’s said approached Bridgewater’s agent (Kennard McGuire) at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week. As of this moment, it’s unknown what kind of market that Bridgewater will have, but the Redskins are expected to make a serious bid for his services, and perhaps too much for the Saints to match.

There’s always the chance of course that Bridgewater and the Saints could work out a deal to keep him in New Orleans (as they’d also like to do with Ingram), but with only $10.8 million to spend under the salary cap, it will be a tough choice for Saints brass to make. Bridgewater is expected to command anywhere from $15 million-$17 million per season, a price that in the end, New Orleans might decide just isn’t commensurate to his skill-set.


What if Bridgewater does leave?

It certainly gives a lot more credence to the possibility of the Rosen rumor that was mentioned up above, but the more likely (and expected) scenario would be that the Saints would roll with Taysom Hill as one of their back-ups; and they’d sign an older veteran back-up or even possibly take a flier on a late round rookie pick in this year’s Draft, to be the other back-up. Some names for Who Dats to remember if that happens: Will Grier of West Virginia, Ryan Finley of North Carolina State, Brett Rypien of Boise State, and Jake Browning, University of Washington, to name just a few.

The Saints gave up a 3rd Round pick when they traded for Bridgewater back in August before the start of the season, because they weren’t convinced that Taysom Hill could lead the team long-term if something were to happen (God forbid) to Drew Brees for an extended period of time, injury-wise. You’d have to presume that not much has changed since that time, other than now they’re faced with the prospect of having to find yet another back-up to play behind Brees.

For years the Saints figuratively have “kicked the can down the road” on their QB situation, and this is where it potentially could come back to hurt them if something did happen to Brees. If in fact that Bridgewater does leave for greener pastures, then the Black and Gold will be right back to square zero with the back-up QB issue; with time for the 40-year old Drew Brees, slowly ticking away.

It’s one of the more intriguing storylines that Saints fans will be following, as they determine which of the rumors to believe or not — once the 2019 NFL Free Agency signing period gets underway next Wednesday Morning.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.

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