The Saints replaced All-Pro guard Carl Nicks with Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs on Thursday, signing Grubbs to a five-year deal. He will step into the starting spot at left guard that Nicks vacated to join the Buccaneers after mulling an offer from New Orleans.
Grubbs, 28, spent the past five seasons with the Ravens and had been Baltimore's starting left guard since the fifth game of his rookie year. His deal is reportedly worth $36 million — $11.5 million less than the contract Nicks signed with the Bucs on Wednesday. It included a hefty chunk of change right off the bat — a $10 million signing bonus. It's believed that Nicks did not receive a signing bonus in his deal, but when the bonus and the additional guaranteed money in Grubbs' deal is combined, it adds up to $26 million. That's the same amount of guaranteed base salary Nicks reportedly received, and it's only $5 million less in total money guaranteed to Nicks.
The Saints apparently didn't get Grubbs on the cheap, but adding another high-caliber protector for QB Drew Brees will come as good news for a fan base craving a positive story since the NFL's unveiling of its investigation into the team's "bounty" program. The Saints didn't have the salary-cap space to go on a spending binge, but they were able to re-sign their top wide receiver, Marques Colston, before the start of free agency and replaced Nicks with a top-tier guard in Grubbs.
The PFW spin
Saints GM Mickey Loomis has received a lot of bad publicity this offseason, but he has handled a difficult situation well this week. Nicks is going to be hard to replace, even for a player as talented as Grubbs, but Grubbs was the next-best option on the open market and he had other teams, including the Ravens, interested in his services.
It will no doubt take some time for Grubbs to get comfortable with his new teammates on the offensive line, but once he adjusts, he and Pro Bowl ORG Jahri Evans have the potential to rival the Bucs' new guard duo of Nicks and Davin Joseph as the league's finest.
While the Saints pay a relatively low price to their center, Brian de la Puente, who was re-signed as an exclusive-rights free agent earlier this month, they made Evans the highest-paid guard in the league in 2010. The merits of spending so much on the interior O-line can be questioned, but obviously the Saints and the Bucs believe that strength up the middle is essential to their success.
Grubbs is not as physically imposing as Nicks. He's about two inches shorter and 30 or so pounds lighter. That makes a difference. However, some evaluators believe the drop-off between Nicks and Grubbs will be hardly noticeable.
Saints fans can rest comfortably knowing that their worst fears have not been realized — their explosive offense has not been gutted in free agency.