We live in a world of instant reactions. And those reactions are going to come fast and furious whenever and wherever there’s an appetite for a take.
It’s too soon to know if tight end Coby Fleener will be a good signing for the New Orleans Saints. Just like it was too soon to know if Brandon Browner or C.J. Spiller were going to be good signings when they signed their deals last offseason.
If you read The Advocate at any point between last March and August, you probably expected Spiller to be the greatest Saint of all time not named Drew Brees. That didn’t work out as expected, though it could still turn around for Spiller, but the point is proclamations made today are worthless.
So, for that reason, there won’t be any sweeping statements made about how Fleener is going to perform and what he will do in this offense. All that will be said now is that he looks like a solid fit, has the potential for upside and fills a need on the roster.
What we can do is debate the logic behind the move.
It can be argued that defense should be the priority for this team, both in free agency and the upcoming draft. The unit was at times dreadful last season, and there were times when no amount offense felt like enough to cover the defense.
But after Ben Watson left for Baltimore, a major need emerged at tight end. New Orleans showed interest in Ladarius Green, who ultimately signed with Pittsburgh, and then made a move on Fleener. It’s unclear if one event led to another or how those players were prioritized, but it is clear the organization felt plugging the gap was a priority.
With tight ends flying off the market and no major prospects in the draft, Fleener, in some respects, was probably the safest way to fill that need with a potentially impactful player.
His price tag of $36 million over five years is pricey. It’s far more than the four years and $20 million Green received from Pittsburgh and eclipsed the $8 million Watson could earn in Baltimore over two seasons.
It looks like a major amount of money because it will be a major amount of money if Fleener sticks around long enough to see it all.
But regarding the 2016 season, he only counts $2.4 million against the salary cap. That isn’t a crippling move. That isn’t enough money to prevent this team from adding a guard or someone on the defensive line. Maybe the Saints can address both needs.
If you just keep the scope at this season, no one would be up in arms if the Saints replaced Watson with a player on a one-year deal worth $2.4 million.
Now, obviously, that isn’t the only commitment on the deal. Fleener has base salaries of $5.8 million in 2017 and $6.3 million in 2018 that are fully guaranteed. At the very least, New Orleans is locked in for three seasons. If it wants to walk away after those three years, it can do so before the third day of the 2018 waiver period with only $3.2 million remaining on the books.
Yes, walking away would mean taking on dead money, and the Saints need to get away from paying players who are no longer on the team. That, more than anything, is the major culprit behind this year’s cap woes. The team is paying $24.9 million to players out of the league or playing in other cities.
And yes, that’s a lot of money in 2017 and 2018. But if Fleener plays up to par, it won’t feel too bad even though he’s currently scheduled to have the fourth-highest cap number on the team in 2017 ($7.5 million) and third-highest number in 2018 ($8 million).
The good news is the Saints only have $89.9 million committed to 32 players for 2017. You can probably add at least another $25 million to that figure if Drew Brees receives a contract extension before next season.
With the cap at $155.27 million this year, and likely to go up next year, that’s not a bad position to be in.
Assuming no more costly commitments are taken on this season, that should give New Orleans plenty of money to spend on its roster. With that kind of space, $7.5 million on a potentially productive tight end doesn’t feel prohibitive.
If the Saints commit to structuring contracts so large amounts of money aren’t pushed down the road on future deals, they also could soon escape most of their cap problems. It also helps tremendously that $24.9 million in dead money is coming off the books after this season.
But, again, there’s an argument to be made that eating up a chunk of the little bit of cap space this team has left should have been spent on the defensive side of the ball.
That might ultimately end up proving to be true. Maybe spending on offense will be regrettable come September. But there’s also the counterargument that the Saints couldn’t afford to let the offense deteriorate with a potentially shaky defense to protect.
As long as the offense remains one of the better units in the league, all the defense has to do is get somewhere around average for this team to have a shot at the playoffs. If the offense drops and isn’t capable of producing at the same level as always, then suddenly the defense has to become one of the stauncher units in the league.
The path to getting average on defense and maintaining the offense seems much more attainable.
Maybe the answer at tight end was already on the roster in the form of Jack Tabb, Hill or Michael Hoomanawanui. This offense does have a history of producing productive tight ends. It happened with Watson last season. But banking on one of those guys to step up and fill the void seems riskier than taking a piece of the available funds and laying it on a more proven player.
Time will tell if Fleener is the answer. He looks like he could thrive in this offense and replace Watson. But a lot of seemingly safe bets have busted here in recent years.
Nothing is guaranteed.
But no one ever wins without cards in their hands.