New Orleans Saints' 2019 free-agent signings: Easton could fill void at center

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Saints sign Murray, move on from Ingram (0:59)

Adam Schefter breaks down what Latavius Murray's signing with New Orleans means for Mark Ingram. (0:59)

A breakdown of the New Orleans Saints' 2019 free-agent signings.

Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback

The Saints agreed to a one-year deal Thursday with Bridgewater, which sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter is worth $7.25 million and up to $12.5 million with incentives. Here is a closer look at the Saints’ decision to re-up with Bridgewater after trading a third-round draft pick to acquire him and a sixth-round pick last August:

What it means: The Saints’ one-season “rental” of Bridgewater seems to have paid off nicely now that the 26-year-old has agreed to stay longer. Obviously a one-year deal doesn’t guarantee that he will become Drew Brees' successor down the road. But this sure increases the chances of that happening -- and it speaks volumes that Bridgewater turned down a chance to start immediately with the Miami Dolphins. The Saints were fortunate there wasn’t more of a starting-QB market for Bridgewater around the NFL, but they were also strategic last year in their hopes that getting Bridgewater in the building and into Sean Payton’s offense might ultimately lead to this. Both sides obviously enjoyed the experience enough to see this as a good long-term fit.

It still remains to be seen, though, how long the 40-year-old Brees plans to keep playing (he has one year left on his deal) and how long the Saints will be willing to keep paying both QBs. They’ll have more big decisions to make at this time next year.

What's the risk? The Saints are now investing a bundle of dough in the QB position -- and they don’t really have any wiggle room under the salary cap to play with. The Saints actually restructured Brees’ contract in order to fit Bridgewater’s new deal under the cap (Brees is making $23 million this year, but his deal includes $21.3 million in “dead money” against next year’s cap).

Also, Bridgewater himself is still no sure thing after recovering from a major 2016 knee injury. The former first-round draft pick has started only one game over the past three years. But he did go 11-5 as a starter for the Vikings in 2015 before the injury -- and Payton is clearly sold. Payton said last year that the only thing the league needed to see from Bridgewater is that he’s healthy. And he told ESPN’s Dianna Russini last month at the combine that “I have my guy” for the future in Bridgewater.


Nick Easton, center/guard

The Saints agreed to a four-year deal worth $24 million with Easton on Sunday, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Here’s a closer look at Easton, who spent the previous three and a half seasons with the Minnesota Vikings:

What it means: Easton becomes the leading contender to replace Max Unger as New Orleans’ starting center after the surprising news of Unger’s retirement broke on Saturday. Easton missed all of last season after having surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. And before that, he primarily served as the Vikings’ left guard in 2017. But he did start a total of six games at center for the Vikings from 2016-17, and that’s where he was originally projected to play when he first entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Harvard in 2015. The Saints also like the potential of third-year undrafted center Cameron Tom. But the size of Easton’s deal suggests he is the front-runner for the job.

What's the risk? Obviously Easton comes with risk after missing all of last season and having such little experience as a starting center in the NFL. And center is a big job, since it involves making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. But the rest of the Saints’ offensive line is loaded with talent and experience, which should help with the transition. And they should have plenty of good insight on Easton, since Sean Payton is close with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and the Saints have also recently signed former Vikings offensive players like QB Teddy Bridgewater, FB Zach Line and RB Latavius Murray.


Latavius Murray, running back

The Saints agreed to a four-year, $14.4 million deal with Murray, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Here’s a closer look at Murray, who spent the previous two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings:

What it means: It means Mark Ingram is gone after a memorable eight-year run that saw him set a franchise record with 50 career touchdown runs and come less than 100 yards away from another franchise record with 6,007 career rushing yards. Ingram was also one of the most popular players in the Saints’ locker room, where teammates described him as the “heart and soul” of the team and where he developed close bonds with fellow running back Alvin Kamara and veteran DE Cameron Jordan, among others. But Ingram’s departure isn’t a huge surprise, since Kamara is New Orleans’ leading man now -- and the Saints weren’t going to be able to keep Ingram in this same price range. Murray, 29, makes sense as a No. 2 RB, since he just played the same role alongside Dalvin Cook in Minnesota and could fill in as an every-down back when needed. Although he hasn’t been as productive as Ingram, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder did make a Pro Bowl earlier in his career with the Oakland Raiders. He has been most effective inside the 10-yard line, with 26 TD runs over the past three years.

What's the risk? Murray hasn’t quite lived up to his potential since his lone 1,000-yard rushing season with the Raiders in 2015. He ran for a total of 1,420 yards in 32 games over the past two years, while averaging 3.99 yards per carry. And he doesn’t have the same versatility as a pass-catcher as Ingram does. Also, one could argue that the Saints should’ve gone even cheaper with their No. 2 RB position since they have precious little salary-cap space to work with. However, they tried that route last year when Ingram was facing a four-game suspension to start the year -- and they couldn’t find anyone else they trusted while auditioning veterans Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams, Terrance West, Shane Vereen and rookie Boston Scott, among others.


Malcom Brown, defensive tackle

The Saints agreed to a three-year deal with Brown on Thursday, a source confirmed. Here’s a closer look at Brown, who spent the previous four seasons with the New England Patriots:

What it means: The big man fills one of New Orleans’ biggest needs, as he will likely replace free agent Tyeler Davison as the starting nose tackle. The 32nd pick in the 2015 draft, Brown started 61 games for the Patriots over the past four years, including the playoffs, and played a little more than 50 percent of their snaps -- primarily as a run defender on early downs. He should play a similar role in New Orleans. But the 6-foot-2, 320-pounder also has the versatility to be a penetrating rusher at times, which should help with their depth concerns while starting 3-technique Sheldon Rankins recovers from a torn Achilles and backup David Onyemata faces possible discipline for a marijuana possession charge. Brown has 9.5 career sacks, including the playoffs.

What's the risk? The NFL Network reported that Brown’s deal is worth $15 million over three years, which is a reasonable amount -- but still is no small change for a team slammed up against the salary cap. And Brown played only 27 snaps per game for the Patriots last year while recording zero sacks. So he was trending in the wrong direction at the end of his time in New England. The Saints are banking that a change of scenery and perhaps an expanded role can change that.


Craig Robertson, linebacker

The New Orleans Saints agreed to a two-year deal with Robertson on Monday. Here’s a closer look at the veteran linebacker and core special-teams player, who joined the Saints in 2016 after beginning his career with the Cleveland Browns:

What it means: The Saints have obviously placed an emphasis on keeping their top special-teams players after previously re-signing backup safety Chris Banjo and backup cornerback Justin Hardee. Robertson, especially, was a no-brainer. Not only has he brought value as a special-teams captain and popular veteran leader, but he has proved to be a trustworthy fill-in at linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 234-pounder has started 27 games for the Saints at both middle linebacker and weakside linebacker.

What's the risk? Not much, since the deal likely won’t break the bank. But Robertson did just turn 31 last week. And he started zero games in 2018 while Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone and A.J. Klein locked down the starting jobs. So, Robertson will have to continue fending off young roster hopefuls to maintain a spot as a full-time special-teamer.


Wil Lutz, kicker

The Saints signed Lutz to a new five-year deal on Wednesday that a source said was the highest total value for a kicker in NFL history. Here’s a closer look at Lutz, who joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie in Week 1 of the 2016 season:

What it means: This might be the biggest no-brainer of the offseason. Not only has Lutz established himself as one of the best kickers in the NFL, but he solved a decade’s worth of issues at the position in New Orleans. When Lutz arrived in 2016, he became the Saints’ 11th kicker in 11 years. (I used to have the list memorized because I had to use it so often: John Carney (three times), Billy Cundiff, Olindo Mare, Martin Gramatica, Taylor Mehlhaff, Garrett Hartley (also on-again, off-again), John Kasay, Shayne Graham, Zach Hocker and Kai Forbath).

What's the risk? Risk obviously isn’t the right word, but the Saints are now spending more than most teams on specialists. Longtime standout Thomas Morstead is the highest-paid punter in the NFL at $3.9 million per year. Those prices are worth it when you find the right guys, though.


Mario Edwards, defensive line

The Saints agreed to a two-year deal with Edwards on Friday. Here’s a closer look at Edwards, who spent the previous four seasons with the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants:

What it means: The Saints have now doubled-down on defensive tackles over the past two days after signing new starting nose tackle Malcom Brown on Thursday. Edwards will probably be more of a rotational depth player after averaging just 14 snaps per game with the Giants last year. But he has the potential to be more than that after being drafted with the 35th overall pick in the 2015 draft -- and he also has the versatility to kick outside to DE if needed. New Orleans is also visiting with edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah, among other possible new additions. The Saints badly needed to bolster their defensive line depth this week. They lost starting DE Alex Okafor to the Chiefs and may decide to move on from starting nose tackle Tyeler Davison. Also, starting DT Sheldon Rankins could miss time to start the year as he recovers from a torn Achilles. And backup DT David Onyemata could face league discipline for a marijuana possession charge.

What's the risk? Edwards has not yet lived up to his potential after battling injuries and inconsistent production early in his career. The Raiders cut him last September before he latched on with the Giants. He has 7.5 sacks in 45 career games played. But the potential is still there for the athletic 6-foot-3, 280-pounder. And this is a low-risk investment that won’t break the bank.