Byrd obviously had a number of interested suitors once he hit the open market. But he scheduled his first visit to New Orleans and was barely off the plane before he agreed to a six-year contract. Obviously it didn't hurt that the Saints offered a whopping $54 million, with $28 million guaranteed, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Byrd said he likes the "yin and yang" relationship he sees between the Saints' dynamic offense and up-and-coming defense.
"Anytime you have that explosive offense, it always helps," Byrd said. "If you're a guy on defense and you know a team is able to get leads on people, jump out to early leads, that bodes well for guys like me who want to get turnovers and create turnovers because it makes another team one dimensional. That's a really big factor and what allowed me to weigh all my options and think about what the best situation was for myself."
The idea of forcing turnovers must be music to the Saints' ears. As good as their defense was last year (fourth in the NFL in yards allowed, second in pass defense), they struggled to force turnovers during the second half of the season. They finished fourth from the bottom in the league standings with just 19 takeaways.
Byrd, meanwhile, has snagged 22 interceptions and forced 11 fumbles during his five-year career.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Byrd's 22 interceptions rank second in the NFL over that span, behind only cornerback Asante Samuel (25).
"That's what I pride myself being able to do is create turnovers -- force fumbles or whatever it might be," Byrd said. "That's something I'm looking forward to coming in and doing. Just doing what I normally do -- and that's what I do."
Byrd didn't reveal too many details about how the deal came together so quickly. He said his agent Eugene Parker and Saints contract negotiator Khai Harley worked out the finer points.
But Byrd said he made the choice to make his first visit to New Orleans because of how much he liked the potential fit.
Byrd said he hadn't had a chance to talk specifics with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan yet (they were planning to meet shortly after his conference call once Ryan and coach Sean Payton returned from Alabama's Pro Day). But Byrd said he got a good firsthand impression of the Saints' defense when the Bills lost to New Orleans, 35-17, in Week 8 last season.
"Just from watching, it seems aggressive and attacking," said Byrd, who also liked the impression he got from New Orleans' home-crowd atmosphere in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"That was big. Playing here last year, I saw how the atmosphere was. It was electric," Byrd said. "They're really behind their team. The Dome was rocking when I was here. They feed off that, and I think that's really big. Anytime you're playing football on defense you always want to have that noise. That's big."
PHOENIX -- Former NFL All-Pro safety Darren Sharper was indicted in Arizona on charges of sexual assault and administering dangerous drugs, authorities said Wednesday.
It was the latest development in several ongoing sexual assault investigations involving the 38-year-old Sharper in Louisiana, California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada.
Sharper is currently in custody in Los Angeles, where he has pleaded not guilty to seven rape and drug counts in connection with two alleged attacks in Hollywood. He had been freed on $1 million bail until an arrest warrant was issued in a New Orleans case.
In Arizona, the Tempe Police Department said a grand jury in metro Phoenix had indicted Sharper after sexual assaults committed in Tempe in November.
Police didn't release any other details of the charges. The indictment has not yet been publicly released. A call to the county prosecutor's office, which runs grand jury investigations, wasn't immediately returned.
Police reports released earlier said two women believed they were sexually assaulted by Sharper at a Tempe apartment on Nov. 21. One of the women told police she suspected she had been drugged before she was attacked.
It's not known whether Sharper has a lawyer in Arizona.
But Sproles seems resigned to the fact the decision won't be left in his hands.
"I want to get released. I don't want to be traded," Sproles told Anderson. "I don't know where they would send me because I have no control over it, and I want to be able to pick.
"The good thing is none of the teams I'm told they're talking to are terrible. It's more than two. I feel I should have more of an idea later on today."
The Saints decided to trade, instead of release, Sproles because there was so much interest from other teams when he was shopped as trade bait, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
There is no official deadline for trading Sproles, but the Saints could use the salary-cap space after agreeing to a six-year contract Tuesday with former Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd. The deal, a league source told ESPN, is worth $54 million, with $28 million guaranteed.
Sproles, 30, is due $3.5 million in salary and bonuses in the final year of his contract. All of that can be saved against the Saints' cap.
Although the Saints were shopping both players as possible trade bait last week, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, it makes sense that the Saints only wanted to let one of them go.
Thomas, 29, now remains as the Saints’ best receiver and best pass protector in a still-deep backfield that also includes promising young runners Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson.
I was admittedly more keen on the idea of keeping Sproles, since he’s such a unique weapon. But I’ve always been high on Thomas’ abilities as a do-everything back, and I’ve written often about him being one of the most underrated backs in the NFL.
Plus, Thomas is a year younger than Sproles, has put a little less tread on his tires over the years, and should come at a cheaper price tag.
And Thomas is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career. He ran for 549 yards last season and caught a career-high 77 passes for 513 yards and five touchdowns. He appeared in every regular-season game, playing exactly 50 percent of the Saints’ offensive snaps, before suffering a chest injury that sidelined him for the playoffs.
Thomas was due $2.9 million in the final year of his contract this season. The details of his new deal haven’t been released yet, but it’s likely that the Saints structured it in a way that will slightly lower his 2014 cap number.
Trading Sproles and reworking Thomas’ deal should give the Saints enough space to fit Byrd under the salary cap (assuming the Saints back-loaded Byrd's monster six-year, $54 million contract). But New Orleans will still need to carve out some more space to sign other players.
The Saints could manage that by restructuring current contracts or possibly releasing one or two more players.
This has been a tough offseason for the Saints’ fans and the organization alike, with the team parting ways with several longtime veterans. But these two latest moves should put a little extra spring in everyone’s step around New Orleans.
The Saints announced the move Wednesday morning on their Twitter account. Financial terms were not disclosed.
- New Orleans Saints (@Saints) March 12, 2014
Thomas gained 1,062 yards from scrimmage -- including a team-leading 549 rushing yards -- and scored five touchdowns last season, his seventh with the Saints.
The 29-year-old Thomas also caught 77 passes for 513 yards. He missed both of New Orleans' playoff games with a chest injury.
The Saints brought back Thomas one day after adding free-agent safety Jairus Byrd, who agreed to a six-year deal worth $54 million, sources told ESPN.
New Orleans also is attempting to trade veteran running back Darren Sproles, a source told ESPN. Sproles, who has one year left on his contract and is due $3.5 million in salary and bonuses, has drawn heavy interest from other teams, according to the source.
Sproles told ESPN on Wednesday that he would rather be released than traded.
The New Orleans Saints landed one of the top-rated free agents in the entire market on Tuesday, agreeing to a six-year contract with Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd. The deal is worth a whopping $54 million, with $28 million guaranteed, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
That’s a stunning investment for any team to make -- especially a team that was already slammed up against the salary cap like the Saints.
They say the NFL is a copycat league, and Byrd is the closest thing to Seattle Seahawks ball hawk Earl Thomas that the Saints could get their hands on. He'll be paired with emerging young safety Kenny Vaccaro, and he’ll be a huge addition for a young Saints defense that was already soaring in the right direction last year.
Signing Byrd is an extreme example of what I just wrote about Tuesday morning -- how the Saints and general manager Mickey Loomis have remained selectively aggressive in free agency in recent years. I like that concept, and I think it's the main reason why the Saints have remained bona fide Super Bowl contenders for five years running.
The Saints have never allowed themselves to be paralyzed by their salary-cap constraints. Last year, that led to one of the best free-agent signings in the entire NFL (cornerback Keenan Lewis at a little more than $5 million per year). Now, they’re almost literally doubling down.
This move will require even more creative salary-cap maneuvering for New Orleans, which is estimated to be just $2.6 million under the cap. But the Saints will save another $3.5 million when they trade or release running back Darren Sproles. And they can easily carve out more space if they’re willing to keep pushing their cap costs into future years.
The Saints can back-load Byrd’s contract, and they can restructure the contract of some current players -- something they have not yet done with any players this offseason. True, that puts a lot of pressure on the cap in future years, and the Saints already have huge cap hits coming in the near future because of other back-loaded contracts. They'll also have to get creative when they re-sign tight end Jimmy Graham to his next deal.
But as I also wrote Tuesday morning, the Saints will pay those bills whenever quarterback Drew Brees retires. For now, they want to try to win as much as they can while Brees is still in his prime.
New Orleans may also decide to cut more players or push for pay cuts. Possible candidates include defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and running back Pierre Thomas.
We’ve obviously seen more of those veteran departures than ever this offseason, with the Saints parting ways with six players who could truly be listed among their all-time greats (Sproles, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Lance Moore).
The Saints also let safety Malcolm Jenkins get away to the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday -- which didn’t come as a surprise since they never showed serious interest in retaining him.
The Saints now have zero defensive players remaining from their 2009 Super Bowl team. And they have only seven players remaining from that roster overall (including free agent offensive tackle Zach Strief and receiver Robert Meachem).
But the aging process is inevitable in the NFL, and the Saints aren’t the first Super Bowl team that has been forced to reinvent itself.
The Saints’ approach to combat that aging process has been to keep spending money aggressively on new core leaders.
And they just placed their biggest bet to date on Byrd -- the most expensive free-agent signing they’ve made since they first signed Brees to a six-year, $60 million deal in 2006.
The New Orleans Saints reached agreement with former Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd on a six-year, $54 million deal that includes $28 million guaranteed, sources told ESPN's Josina Anderson and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The Saints announced the six-year deal Tuesday night, but did not confirm the terms.
"We had hoped for the opportunity to pursue Jairus Byrd," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. "After meeting with him, we are excited that he will become a member of the New Orleans Saints. We think that his play-making abilities will be an excellent fit with what we are trying to accomplish with our defense and in our secondary."
Byrd received the Bills' franchise tag in 2013 but chose not to sign his franchise tender until the third week of the preseason after he was unable to reach a long-term deal with the Bills.
The team decided not to use the tag again on the safety this offseason.
Byrd, a second-round pick of the Bills in 2009, has been selected to three Pro Bowls. His nine interceptions as a rookie were tied for the most in the NFL that season.
Byrd sat out the first five games of last season due to foot soreness. He finished with 48 tackles and four interceptions.
In a statement released by the Saints, Byrd thanked the Bills franchise while expressing excitement about heading to New Orleans.
Reports surfaced last week the Saints planned to release Sproles if they were unable to find a trade partner. But, with all the interest, the team has held on to him and now would like to capitalize on that interest, according to the source.
Sproles, 30, only has one year remaining on his contract and is due $3.5 million in salary and bonuses. That should be palatable for any team pursuing him in a trade.
The Saints didn't have to cut Sproles before the start of the new league year on Tuesday because they are already an estimated $2.6 million under the salary cap.
It’s possible Byrd could be seeking a long-term deal in that price range. Byrd reportedly is seeking at least $9 million per year, according to ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker. But that could be on the high end after two other top safeties, Donte Whitner and T.J. Ward, reportedly agreed to deals Tuesday worth $7 million and $5.5 million per year, respectively.
The Saints don’t have a ton of salary cap space to work with. But they’ll be at least $6 million under the cap after cutting ties with running back Darren Sproles (which still has not officially happened yet). And they could carve out millions more by restructuring some of their current contracts if they so choose.
Signing Byrd would be an extreme example of what I wrote about Tuesday morning -- the way the Saints have remained selectively aggressive in free agency in recent years to keep an eye on the future. They have never allowed themselves to be paralyzed by their salary-cap constraints.
Even though they’ve decided to part ways with a number of longtime veterans this year (including longtime starting safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins), they have continued to add new core players through free agency in recent years. That’s why they’ve remained bona fide Super Bowl contenders for so long.
Byrd (5-10, 203 pounds) is known as a ball-hawking free safety with excellent instincts. He battled plantar fasciitis in his foot last season, and there have always been some concerns about his speed since he entered the league as a second-round draft pick in 2009. But they obviously haven't kept him from making an impact on the field.
He also has 356 career tackles, 11 forced fumbles, three sacks and 33 pass defenses.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan values safeties in his defense. He would often feature three of them in a rotation at once last year -- led by breakout rookie Kenny Vaccaro.
And now, the Saints need more safety help since Vaccaro is the only safety remaining on the roster. They also expect part-time starter Rafael Bush back after making a one-year qualifying offer to him as a restricted free agent.
The Saints released Harper last month. And they allowed Jenkins to get away as a free agent when he agreed to a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday (three years, $16.25 million, according to Schefter).
That move wasn’t surprising since the Saints seemed prepared to let Jenkins get away, especially at that price.
Longtime readers of mine know I’ve always been high on Jenkins' potential in New Orleans. He seemed to flash his big-play potential every year with one or two game-changing plays. And he was a smart, hard-working player that was respected by coaches and teammates alike. He was elected as a defensive captain in each of the past two years.
But Jenkins never consistently lived up to his potential in New Orleans. And the Saints obviously have an eye on upgrading.
Jenkins, by the way, is the sixth member of the Saints' Super Bowl roster that the team has parted ways with this offseason. They now have zero defensive players remaining from that 2009 season and only seven total players left on the roster (including free agent offensive tackle Zach Strief and receiver Robert Meachem).
Trying to solve their issues at safety, the Philadelphia Eagles reached agreement with former New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins on a three-year contract worth $16.25 million, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The Eagles have had a revolving door at safety for a few years since former All-Pro Brian Dawkins left Philadelphia.
Jenkins, 26, has been a tantalizing talent since being drafted with the 14th pick out of Ohio State in 2009. And he's been a full-time starter since the Saints converted him from cornerback to free safety in 2010. But the 6-foot-4, 204-pounder has never consistently delivered on his lofty potential.
He has had a knack for making one or two game-changing plays per season, and he's a respected leader who was elected as a captain each of the past two years. But he has struggled at times with his consistency in coverage and tackling.
Jenkins had one of his better seasons in 2013 with 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in a versatile role under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (sometimes blitzing, sometimes in slot coverage).
For his career, Jenkins has 358 tackles, 4.5 sacks, six interceptions, six forced fumbles and 38 pass breakups.
The Saints are an estimated $2.6 million under the salary cap, according to ESPN's latest figures. Releasing or trading Sproles would put them more than $6 million under the cap.
No tenders for Collins, Morgan: The Saints won’t make qualifying tenders to restricted free agent fullback Jed Collins and receiver Joe Morgan, according to The Times-Picayune, which cited a source. But the Saints are still interested in re-signing both players at more affordable rates.
I’m surprised on Collins, since I think the Saints value him highly as a blocking back and occasional receiver in their offense. But the fullback position is a part-time role in the Saints’ offense, so they don’t want to invest too much in that area. And perhaps they think they can retain Collins at something like $1 million per year. (The lowest RFA tender would have been around $1.4 million).
The Saints also like Morgan’s potential after he showed so much promise as a deep threat in 2012. But they probably want to minimize any investment on him after he missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
Here was my recent breakdown of the Saints’ restricted free agents.
Interest in Strief, de la Puente: The Saints have not given up on the idea of re-signing free agent offensive linemen Zach Strief and Brian de la Puente. But they will hit the open market today, and there has been some interest in both of them.
Strief's agent Ralph Cindrich said there have been discussions with teams, but nothing finalized yet. Both ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton and the Miami Herald have speculated the Miami Dolphins might have interest in Strief. The Advocate's Ramon Antonio Vargas said the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have shown interest in de la Puente.
The New Orleans Saints aren't succumbing to the salary cap.
It wouldn't even be accurate to say they're in a rebuilding mode this offseason. Because much of the new foundation is already in place.
The Saints have remained perennial Super Bowl contenders because they haven't allowed themselves to be paralyzed by their salary-cap predicament.
Instead, they've continued to aggressively spend money in free agency in recent years on new core leaders such as cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker Curtis Lofton and guard Ben Grubbs -- not to mention running back Darren Sproles when he arrived in 2011.
And they'll likely make one or two similar investments in free agency this year.
Of course it's difficult -- for the fan base and the organization alike -- to see the Saints part ways with so many of their all-time great players. The Saints' recent news releases have read more like the induction of a Ring of Honor class than a series of roster cuts: Lance Moore, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer, with Sproles reportedly next.
But the Saints haven't been forced into any of these moves. They've been tough but calculated decisions, made when the Saints feel a player's value no longer matches his salary.
And if anything, the team should be applauded for the way it has planned ahead for these departures.
I'm not saying I love every move the Saints have made. I'm especially leery about the decision to part with Sproles, who will be much harder to replace than anyone else on the list, even if he is starting to slow down at age 30.
I was equally leery about the decision to let left tackle Jermon Bushrod get away last year, since New Orleans didn't have a proven alternative in-house. But I appreciate that those decisions were value-based.
It's also worth noting that Bushrod is the only example that comes close to the Saints being burned by a decision to let go of one of their core veteran players during the tenure of general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton.
"We're always trying to improve our team," Loomis said earlier this offseason, when I asked him about the way the Saints have stayed aggressive in free agency in recent years despite their cap limitations. "I think the biggest challenge of that is that you just can't afford to make many mistakes. That your margin for error is decreased."
Every year, people tend to determine the free agency "winners" and "losers" by the size of the haul.
But the Saints deserve credit for making so many choices that have panned out in recent years despite such a slim margin for error.
"It's exceptionally hard to do," said Bill Polian, the ESPN analyst and a former longtime general manager who raved last month about the job that Loomis and Payton have done in recent years to continually reshape the roster.
"It is this kind of cap management when you're a good team, a contending team, that is most valuable. And in almost every case it goes unnoticed," Polian said. "[Teams like the Saints that] continue to add good players deserve a great deal of credit."
Polian knows of what he speaks, having previously managed the Indianapolis Colts with quarterback Peyton Manning as their high-priced centerpiece.
The Saints made quarterback Drew Brees the first NFL player to make $20 million per year in 2011. In turn, they entered each of the past two offseasons at more than $10 million over the salary cap.
And now they're poised to make free agent Jimmy Graham the highest-paid tight end in NFL history -- likely more than $10 million per year. But I still expect the Saints to keep an aggressive eye on the open market, as they have in recent years.
To do so, Loomis and his staff have had to become masters in mathematics, continually restructuring contracts and back-loading deals to push cap costs into future years.
Sure, the Saints are just delaying the inevitable. But they figure they can wait to pay those bills whenever Brees retires. Their window of opportunity to win titles is now.
"I was, and am, much more conservative," Brandt said recently. "You know, having Brett Favre all those years, I never wanted to leave the team with a big hole based on pro-ration of an old contract. ... You're always going to be either releasing veteran players and/or doing these cap restructures that put more pressure on the future. They're gonna continue to have challenges. I don't think they can continue to be aggressive.
"But they've got this window. And if they keep deleting and pushing out cap, I guess they can."
One thing both Brandt and Polian agreed on is that the Saints, led by Loomis and Payton, have been successful with recent choices made in both free agency and the draft. Player personnel director Ryan Pace, college scouting director Rick Reiprish and football administration director Khai Harley -- as well as others in the front office -- also deserve plenty of credit for that.
The Saints' success with personnel decisions was never more evident than last month, when they bid farewell to longtime defensive greats Smith, Vilma, Greer and Harper. Those moves didn't hurt too much, because their replacements -- Lewis, Lofton and recent first-round draft picks Cameron Jordan and Kenny Vaccaro -- are already in-house.
Now the Saints are hoping that emerging young offense playmakers such as Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Kenny Stills can help fill the voids left by Sproles and Moore.
Perhaps they're playing with fire. But that's not the same thing as a fire sale.