INDIANAPOLIS — The New Orleans Saints have already started on free agency.
New Orleans agreed to terms with Kurt Coleman on a three-year deal early Saturday morning. The veteran safety, who was released by the Carolina Panthers on Monday, met with the Saints this week at the NFL scouting combine.
His signing gives New Orleans depth at safety, as Kenny Vaccaro is expected to sign with another team this offseason. Coleman will compete with Vonn Bell at strong safety, though there should be enough snaps for both players to have significant roles since New Orleans often uses three-safety sets.
Coleman, who signed a three-year deal reportedly worth $18 million, drew interest from multiple teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Giants. He chose the Saints because he likes the team's culture and chances of winning.
After starting his career in Philadelphia, Coleman broke out with the Panthers, recording 11 interceptions during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He battled injuries and did not record one last season before being released by the Panthers to clear cap space.
One rival personnel man praised the move Saturday, saying New Orleans was bringing in a "very smart player." Coleman has two career interceptions against the Saints.
The 29-year-old played both safety spots with the Panthers. With Marcus Williams serving as the deep player, and with New Orleans' penchant for using single-high looks, it's likely that Coleman will see a significant amount of his snaps from inside the box, which is where the team needs help with Vaccaro likely departing.
However, it's unclear if Coleman can do all the same things as Vaccaro. He only occasionally covered players coming out of the slot in Carolina, doing so 227 times over three years. Vaccaro did so 250 times just last season and missed the end of the season because of injury.
But the Saints will find a role for Coleman and find ways to maximize his skills. It was unlikely that New Orleans was going to be able to find a single player who can do all of the things Vaccaro used to do for this defense. He is a unique player with a rare set of skills. It's likely the Saints will still look to find another cornerback who can help in the slot.
One area Coleman could have an advantage is that he possesses the ability to play deep as well as in the box. He bounced around between the two roles during his time in Carolina, and that could be a benefit for this defense.
That should help since New Orleans likes to disguise its looks on defense. The cloaking sometimes requires a safety to drop back and form a two-high shell after the ball is snapped. Having another safety who can play deep will also allow the Saints to show more two-safety looks and have those players be interchangeable in their roles.
Vaccaro was able to play deep at times, but was inconsistent and looked his best when playing down near the line of scrimmage. Evaluators also say Coleman looked his best when playing in the box last season, but still possesses the ability to play deep.
One way or another, the hope is that Coleman will fulfill a role with the team. If he proves to be the player he was a year or two ago, it could end up being significant. If he's the same guy he was last year before injuring his knee, he gives the Saints a versatile player who will be able to help the defense and complement Williams and Bell.
The signing removes one of the musts off New Orleans' list of needs and allows the organization to shift focus toward addressing some of the other things it needs to address this offseason.