COMMENTARY | The 2013 NFL free-agency period has been a spending frenzy with teams shelling out large amounts of money on big-name free agents.
One team that has been fairly quiet in free agency so far is the New Orleans Saints. With limited salary-cap room to sign top free agents, and multiple holes to fill in several offensive and defensive areas, head coach Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have serious decisions to make.
The Saints lost Pro Bowl offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod in free agency to the Chicago Bears. Bushrod was the linchpin on the offensive line in run and pass protection, as well as protecting the blindside of quarterback Drew Brees. Bushrod's departure gives the Saints a gaping hole along the O-line to fill this offseason.
The team's other pressing need is defense, and so far they've made one move, signing free agent Keenan Lewis to a five-year, $26.5 million contract. The 6-foot-1-inch, 208-pound cornerback amassed 78 tackles (63 solo), an NFL-leading 28 passes defensed, and one forced fumble as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012 (according to nola.com).
He's a physical man-to-man corner who likes to put a hat on opposing wide receivers. His acquisition fills a void left by cornerback Johnny Patrick, who was released by the club in February. Lewis has the flexibility to play on the edges as a primary and secondary corner, or in the slot as a nickelback. NFL.com ranked him as one of the best available free-agent corners on the market in a pool featuring Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Brent Grimes. The signing of Lewis is symbolic of the Saints' commitment to becoming a more physical and stout defense under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Lewis is a good signing, adding excellent ball skills and depth to a fairly thin and unproductive Saints secondary.
The Saints also addressed a need on offense by signing tight end Benjamin Watson. Watson spent last season with the Cleveland Browns, posting 49 receptions for 501 yards and 3 touchdowns. After releasing tight end Dave Thomas, the Saints got an upgrade in Watson, who has good hands, athleticism, and is an excellent run and pass blocker. Head coach Sean Payton likes to run two tight-end sets, especially in the red zone, and adding Watson gives him another weapon to play opposite All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham.
Lewis and Watson are good additions who will thrive in the Saints program. If I had to grade the Saints for their performance thus far, I would give them a B. They still have their work cut out for them, and need to address their deficiencies on the offensive line, at the back-up quarterback position, defensive line, linebacker position, and secondary.
Look for the Saints to continue focusing on defense as they make a run at free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to add another physical cover defender.
Daniel Miller is a freelance sports contributor for AOL Patch.com. He's also worked as a freelance sportswriter for the Dallas Morning News, sports editor for Sirius XM Radio, and a sports production assistant for KXAS-TV NBC-5 in the Dallas-Ft.Worth area.
You can follow Daniel on Twitter @dm26Nola.
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- New Orleans Saints
- Jermon Bushrod
- Sean Payton
- Keenan Lewis