Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is a realist.
He knows the Saints entered free agency with limited cap space and were going to be limited in the things they were going to be able to accomplish. He had his lists of “musts, needs and wants” and made calls on a handful of players, but some of those things simply didn’t work out.
“Man, it feels like every year it’s higher than you expect,” he said Monday at LSU’s Pro Day.
So during the first wave of free agency, New Orleans focused on retaining the players it felt it could not afford to lose and was able to strike a deal with tight end Coby Fleener after losing Ben Watson to the Baltimore Ravens.
Loomis is aware that many fans wanted the team to focus on defense, and he sees the logic behind that thinking, but the team had to make the moves it was able to make.
“We have limitations in resources,” Loomis said. “You have to fill the right hole with the right value. It may end up being an offensive player when you’re looking to help your defense, or when you have a good defense — there’s nothing wrong with getting a good value and a good player.
“It doesn’t always fall like you would hope in a perfect world, and you have to adjust to that.”
Free agency still isn’t done for the Saints. With the first wave of players off the market, New Orleans can look to add veteran players at lesser salaries to fill some of the needs remaining on the roster. Some of the spots the team could be looking at are guard, defensive tackle, safety, linebacker and pass rusher.
Loomis made it clear the team isn’t done looking for talent. It will look to patch some more holes, whether it be through free agency, the draft or signing unrestricted free agents. He said that last week the team did more monitoring of the market than anything but noted they made several calls on various players.
And while the Saints are limited in what they can do since they have only a little bit more than $5 million in cap space, he said the team did not approach this offseason as gun shy after making the costly mistake of signing cornerback Brandon Browner last offseason and not getting the expected return yet from running back C.J. Spiller.
“We always approach these things cautiously, and yet you can’t let a past mistake prevent you from taking a risk in the future,” Loomis said. “Now, it’s calculated. It’s always calculated for us. We have a great staff of evaluators. We have coaches that evaluate. We get opinions and then make a collective decision.
“We recognize there’s risk involved. The risk doesn’t just begin and end with the player’s talent. There’s injury, there’s fit, scheme fit, there’s all kinds of things that contribute to a player’s success and failure with our team.”
Loomis was asked about the success around the league and the number of players who fail to make it beyond the second year of their contract when joining a new club via free agency, such as Browner.
He noted that players often end up being paid more than what they are capable of contributing, but added that it’s dangerous to oversimplify things.
“You have to be cautious of painting everything with a broad brush and saying there’s a reason. There’s not,” he said. “There’s lots of variables involved, and I mentioned a few of them.
“I do think this: The bigger the deal, the higher the expectations. And the higher the expectations, the more difficult it is to fulfill the expectations. You always have to keep that in mind — I don’t know who judges the success or failure, you in this case — I think you have to be cautious.”
The Saints are being cautious this year. But that’s mostly because they don’t have a choice. And that might not be a bad thing.
After years of battling with the cap, New Orleans is in a position to be mostly free and clear of the troubles next season with only $88 million committed to the 2017 cap.
When asked about escaping the woes, Loomis responded by saying, “Oh, yeah.” He then added that the team is keeping an eye on the future and is cautious of doing anything that would put them back in this position.
“We’re always trying to look ahead a year, two years, three years in advance,” Loomis said. “It’s part of the reason why you guys are writing stories — not you specifically, but the media in general — about how tight we are in the cap.
“We’ve understood where we we’re at, we understood where we were at a year ago, we understand where we’re at this year. We have a plan for that. But we do look out. I wouldn’t say we look out five or six years, but we’re looking out one, two, three years down the road.”
For now, it looks like the Saints will keep plugging holes until they can make a splash next year.