The Saints had a wish list.
It contained some big names. Jimmy Graham was on it. Malcolm Butler was rumored to be there. Some of those players garnered real interest from the Saints. New Orleans engaged in conversations about acquiring Graham, but, when the Green Bay Packers pushed the price up, the Saints stepped away.
The point of this story is this: New Orleans isn't out here spending reckless money, trying to stock the shelves with name players nor are they fishing for the missing component that propels the organization to success. This is a good team with a talented, young roster. Sure, outside help could bolster it, and those moves are getting made, but they're going to happen on the Saints' terms, or they won't happen at all.
That's how they ended up signing linebacker Demario Davis and cornerback Patrick Robinson on Wednesday, and not Butler or Graham as many hoped. These aren't the moves that lead people to the street to proclaim New Orleans is heading back to the Super Bowl. But the last time the Saints were close and operated like they only live once, they dropped a bag on safety Jairus Byrd and we know how that turned out. Luckily, a few offseasons of smart moves granted this team new life, and it looks like it will continue traveling to its destination in the middle lane.
Brandon Coleman is now free to sign with another team.
There might be moments here or there when the Saints jump in the left lane and pick up a high-priced passenger, but that isn't where this team should exist. Both Robinson and Davis are the kind of moves this team should be making. These are good players who, if everything goes right, should be able to help immensely.
People who remember Robinson from the last time he was here are likely rolling their eyes. Those people have the wrong reaction. In 2014, his last season in New Orleans, Robinson started to showcase the skills that allowed him to succeed elsewhere after getting off to a rough start here. He played well in San Diego in 2015, suffered injuries with the Colts in 2016, and bounced back in a big way last season with Eagles.
You could argue that Robinson is now one of the better slot cornerbacks in the NFL. When targeted by opposing quarterbacks when playing inside, he allowed a 64.96 passer rating. Only Kyle Fuller (38.58) and Tyrann Mathieu (61.75) had better marks, according to Sports Info Solutions. The Saints as a whole had a 94.23 passer rating against from the slot last season.
The Saints are turning to a familiar face to solidify the secondary.
The appeal of Robinson should be obvious. His presence fills a need. With Kenny Vaccaro almost certainly departing in the coming days, New Orleans needed to find a way to replace him. It already signed Kurt Coleman to take care of the safety part. Now it needed someone to cover the slot. The sum of those two players might outweigh what is lost with Vaccaro.
Davis arrives in the same mold as Robinson. He had a disappointing start to his career but pieced together his best season playing for the Jets last season. He excelled in the running game, racked up five sacks, and was solid against the pass. Pro Football Focus called him the best free-agent linebacker on the market.
It remains to be seen where he'll fit. New Orleans signed A.J. Klein to play middle linebacker last season, but no one in that group played so well that their spot should be solidified before camp even opens. Someone could always move to the strong side. The bottom line is everyone will compete, just like last year, and the best players will play. But if Davis is the player he was last season, and Alex Anzalone returns from injury and performs the way the team expects, this group could be much improved.
These are good moves for a team that is close. Signing Graham would have made the offense a lot better, but he probably wasn't worth the $30 million over three years he reportedly received from the Green Bay Packers. That's the same amount per year he received from the Saints four years ago when he was four years younger and coming off his best seasons.
The Saints are still exploring all options in free agency.
And the five-year, $61 million deal Malcolm Butler received from the Titans is the kind of deal that teams often regret in two years. Maybe this one will be different, but odds are it ends with regret.
There's nothing saying the Saints got this right. But the chances of them getting to where they want to go without getting pulled over from the position they're taking are a lot better. The splash still might come. It's fine to hit the left lane and pass someone up, but things often go bad when you live there.