New general manager Terry Fontenot had been the director of pro scouting with the New Orleans Saints for the past six seasons. Still, he has played a pivotal role in many different capacities for over sixteen years. These past six seasons have been very successful for New Orleans (at least during the regular season). While the way the Saints have drafted has put them in a position to compete (at least during the regular season), they have found plenty of gems in free agency that have complimented their draft classes.
I don’t really want to dig through sixteen years of signings and trades, so we’ll focus on Fontenot’s six most recent seasons. There are a handful of “meh” signings and re-signings (PJ Williams, Ted Ginn, AJ Klein, etc.), so I’m going to focus on stuff that stands out.
Keep in mind, most of these are not Fontenot’s final decisions, but his opinion carried weight with Mickey Loomis. I’m not indicting or praising Fontenot for these; hindsight is always 20/20. This is just a look back. For now, I’ll be avoiding the draft; we may look at that closer to April. I think I got a majority of these, but I make mistakes too.
The Bad: S Jairus Byrd, RB Darren Sproles, CB Brandon Browner, TE Coby Fleener, IDL Nick Fairley, S Vonn Bell, IDL Mario Edwards, CB Eli Apple, LB Kiko Alonso
I’ll start with some of the bad moves because the Saints managed to mitigate some of these transactions’ damage. Jairus Byrd was a bust — plain and simple. He rarely stayed healthy and never came close to matching the nine interceptions he recorded in 2009. He only lasted three seasons in New Orleans after signing a six-year, $56 million contract. Coby Fleener signed a five-year, $36 million deal with New Orleans and, like Byrd, never stayed healthy enough even to see half of it.
Trading Darren Sproles for a fifth-round pick that turned into Ronald Powell must’ve left management frustrated. Sproles made three Pro Bowls in Philadelphia with the Eagles, won a Super Bowl, and New Orleans was left searching for a solution at running back for a few years.
Brandon Browner straight-up sucked after he left Seattle. He was torched all year and even took some jabs at the Saints on social media. A more unfortunate flop was Nick Fairley, who cashed in on a one-year prove-it deal with New Orleans and earned a 4 year, $30 million deal in 2017. Fairley discovered a heart condition the next offseason that ended his football career.
Letting Vonn Bell walk was a mistake. I played against the guy in high school, so I’ve always followed his career. Bell has been highly effective for the Bengals, and while the Saints were solid at safety at the time, it would be nice to have his $6 million AAV now with Marcus Williams leaving in free agency. The same can be said for Mario Edwards; he is insanely cheap and was fantastic for Chicago in 2020.
I never really liked Eli Apple, and I’m sure that’s something Saints fans can agree with me on. Trading for him was a waste of a fourth-round pick, and Apple may be out of the NFL altogether here soon. Another trade gone wrong was for Kiko Alonso. He struggled to stay on the field and wasn’t even good when he did play.
However, they managed to turn Alonso into Kwon Alexander this offseason, which was a move I did like. While New Orleans made a handful of bad signings and trades, not many of them have come in recent seasons. They’ve cut bait in multiple instances at fitting times, and as I like to say, there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.
The Good: TE Ben Watson, TE Jimmy Graham / C Max Unger, FB John Kuhn, WR Willie Snead, G Larry Warford, CB Patrick Robinson, LB DeMario Davis, QB Teddy Bridgewater, IDL Malcolm Brown, TE Jared Cook, RB Latavius Murray, QB Taysom Hill, WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Malcolm Jenkins, LB Kwon Alexander
Thankfully (sort of) for Falcons fans, this list is longer than the bad. DeMario Davis is the crown jewel of this list. Davis was an afterthought with the lowly Jets, and he’s been nothing short of an All-Pro for the Saints.
Ben Watson exploded in Jimmy Graham’s absence in 2015. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles after leaving in free agency, but New Orleans still got great production out of him on insanely cheap contracts. While the first-round pick acquired in the Jimmy Graham trade was wasted, New Orleans parted with Graham at the right time as he as yet to replicate the production he had with Drew Brees. Paying him the ridiculous money he was asking for would have been a mistake, and Max Unger ended up being a three-time Pro Bowler for them.
I’m honestly shocked John Kuhn wasn’t a lifetime Packer, but I like the idea of going out and getting an effective fullback. Willie Snead was a journeyman UDFA that found a home with the Saints making the most of his time with Sean Payton and Drew Brees.
After Larry Warford left Detroit, he made three Pro Bowls with New Orleans after signing a four-year contract. Patrick Robinson has been a solid, cheap corner option for them — something the Falcons will be in the market for. Teddy Bridgewater was an excellent band-aid when Drew Brees was out last season, and I actually think Jameis was good in that same emergency role this season.
On a three year contract worth $5 million AAV, Malcolm Brown has outperformed his current deal at defensive tackle. Jared Cook fumbled away New Orleans’ Super Bowl aspirations, but he has been pretty solid and posted a career-high in touchdowns in 2019. Latavius Murray has been a great thunder to the Alvin Kamara lightning, and he’s barely making over $3 million per year — an area Atlanta needs help at.
Taysom Hill has to be mentioned; I think the extension they gave him was an overpay. He was a good grab for an offensive guru like Sean Payton, but $21 million is way too much money for him. Emmanuel Sanders was a great bargain bin signing, and he even outplayed an injured Michael Thomas this season.
Malcolm Jenkins coming home on a four-year deal was cool, but he may be a slight overpay and could be moved to the “bad” section in a year or two. Finally, I really liked the Kwon Alexander trade. The Achilles injury sucked, but they shed Kiko Alonso and gave up almost nothing for a fantastic linebacker. They can even get out of Alexander’s contract without owing him anything.
Overall, I think many of the signings have been fantastic, but there is no shortage of overpays on this list. Jairus Byrd was a good signing at the time, but it turned into one of the worst contracts in NFL free agency history. Then you get guys like Larry Warford and DeMario Davis who ascend to All-Pro status after coming to New Orleans. When looking at the bad, injuries have clearly played a role in some contracts not working out. Those are obviously unpredictable, so I’d say Fontenot did a good job evaluating the overall talent from 2014-2020 when discussing trades and free agency.