METAIRIE -? When it comes to NFL free agency, general managers all around the league will tell you that you can?t sign them all.
They would like to get them all, of course, but the salary cap era forces teams to make difficult choices.
Even the best teams and best general managers lose a few every year, so trying to minimize the damage as much as possible while adding a few pieces to the puzzle can make all the difference in the world when the playoffs roll around.
But that?s in a normal year. This year has been anything but normal, which makes the moves that teams make all the more important.
A little more than a week into a belated free agency signing period, you?d have to give the New Orleans Saints an “A” for all the wheeling and dealing they did to get 90 players on the roster Thursday for the first full-squad practice of training camp.
While it says a lot for general manager Mickey Loomis and a handful of able front office execs, more and more unrestricted free agents have made New Orleans a landing spot when their contracts are up thanks to the presence of Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees.
And 2011 was no exception. Players want to win ? and they want to win right away, an opportunity the Saints give them as long as No. 9 is in his prime.
As of Thursday night, they had re-signed 14 of their own unrestricted and restricted free agents, brought in nine from other teams and had lost just five unrestricted free agents - including only one projected starter in center Jonathan Goodwin.
The Saints were able to re-sign most of their core players from the team that won a franchise-record 24 regular-season games and a Super Bowl the last two seasons -?strong safety Roman Harper, tackle Jermon Bushrod, guard Carl Nicks, wide receiver Lance Moore and linebacker Scott Shanle.
Shanle, for one, considered an offer from the Kansas City Chiefs to play closer to his home state of Nebraska. But after five seasons here, he only saw himself playing for one team.
“Drew was a huge factor in my decision,” Shanle said after agreeing to a new two-year contract. “?I see us winning more championships. It really wasn?t a hard decision.”
The Saints also brought back several key role players in safeties Chris Reis and Pierson Prioleau and wide receiver Courtney Roby - players who contribute mainly on special teams.
And then there were the players they brought in from other teams.
Run-stopping defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin was the San Francisco 49ers’ franchise player just a year ago, former San Diego Chargers running back/kick returner Darren Sproles has been one of the more exciting players in the league, and former Detroit Lions defensive end Turk McBride is on the upside of his career as a pass rusher.
They may not be able to sign them all, but they’re trying.