Dig Baton Rouge

Buyer Beware

Everyone loves good news.

But what’s even better than good news is unexpected good news. Who doesn’t love a happy surprise?

And in the matter of a few hours on the first evening of free agency, the Who Dat Nation learned that three-time All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd was not only taking a visit to New Orleans, but the Saints wouldn’t let him leave without inking a six-year contract.

So in just mere hours, black and gold supporters went from wondering if their team would be able to do anything in free agency, to controlled jubilation when news broke that Byrd was visiting and finally to unbridled joy when the Saints announced the agreement.

Whew, who says football season ends in February?

Twitter feeds and Facebook walls blew up with excitement about how imposing Byrd and sophomore stud safety Kenny Vaccaro will look alongside each other.

But remember all news – even good news – comes at some kind of cost.

Questions regarding how the Saints could afford Byrd and his league-second-best 22 interceptions since 2009 while staying under the cap were emphatically answered by his huge signing bonus ($11 million split over five years) and low base salary in year one ($1.3 million).

However, every signing – not just in the NFL, but also in all salary-capped sports – has ripple effects far beyond an individual player’s cap slot.

There’s an opportunity cost involved here – one that could stop the team from signing other players not just now but in the future.

And with the biggest potential contract situation hovering over the Saints – maybe ever – in the form of franchise tagged Jimmy Graham, it’s fair to wonder whether the signing of one All-Pro could mean the departure of another.

But breathe easy black and gold supporters – for now.

Thanks to yet another collective bargaining agreement that was a decisive victory for the owners, the franchise tag remains in place as New Orleans’ trump card over Graham. With the exception of Graham’s ability to sit out and get paid nothing or file a grievance that likely won’t go anywhere, all leverage and negotiating power goes the way of New Orleans.

With the team nearly capped out even before bringing in Byrd, New Orleans will need to restructure a few players or the team wouldn’t even be able to give in to Graham’s demands even if it wanted to.

With Byrd taking a team-friendly deal in year one, his cap number is slated to go up from $3.5 million in 2014 to $10.3 million in 2015, meaning New Orleans will have about $7 million less to play with when Graham will assuredly once again want a long-term and high-money deal next offseason — if he even gets there as a Saint.

Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley ($18.3 million cap hit over the next three years), wide receiver Marques Colston ($28.5 million over the next three years) and guards Ben Grubbs ($29 million cap hit over the next three years) and Jahri Evans ($32.2 cap hit over the next three years) appear to be the most likely candidates. However, their dead money numbers if released don’t go down to reasonable levels until the 2016 offseason, meaning the Saints don’t really have restructure-or-take-a-pay-cut-or-you’re-cut leverage until then.

And of course there’s Drew Brees’ massive deal that will surely get picked apart to promise the quarterback more long-term security and the team more short-term cap flexibility.

Don’t expect big time money to get freed up this offseason or next.

And oh yeah, you have to find money for star pass rushers Cam Jordan next offseason and Junior Galette the year after that.

So if you’re celebrating the new safety in town but are also a big fan of Graham, beware that New Orleans’ signing of Byrd just made it much more unlikely that the team will keep the star tight end long term unless he is willing to accept tight end franchised rates the next two seasons.

Not likely.

Therefore, Graham’s jersey may soon make its way to the clearance rack of your nearest mall, but feel assured that Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis has always and will always do what’s best for his business.

And this is no exception.


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