Time for Saints to turn the page as 2019 NFL offseason begins
METAIRIE – The Super Bowl is over.
So is the Boycott Bowl.
The blown officiating call in the NFC Championship game that tainted the Super Bowl and gave birth to the Boycott Bowl will loom over the New Orleans Saints for a while.
But it’s time to turn the page from the 2018 NFL season to the 2019 NFL calendar.
The Saints’ players will be on their own for a while, but the front office has plenty to do to prepare for off-season work and next season.
Here’s a look at the key dates and events looming during the off-season:
Feb. 19 – The first day that NFL teams can designate franchise and transition tags.
It seems unlikely that the Saints will utilize either designation, but how teams do or don’t utilize them provides the first hint as to what could happen in free agency.
Feb. 26-March 4 – The Scouting Combine.
NFL teams will put the top draft prospects through intensive physical and mental evaluations as a key component in producing their grades prior to the draft.
March 5 – The deadline to apply franchise/transition tags.
These last-minute decisions will determine the final significant elements that will influence the attractiveness of the free-agent class.
March 11 – First day to contact free agents
This will confirm for teams what kind of competition they will face in courting the top free agents on their shopping lists.
March 13 – Free agent signings and trades can begin
The work that is done during the early stages of the off-season will begin to yield results as teams can begin to sign free agents away from each other.
The Saints have 22 players from last year’s team who are eligible for free agency.
The biggest name on the list is running back Mark Ingram II, who’s a vital part of the team, but whose value is also diminished a bit by the presence of Alvin Kamara and the fact that Ingram will enter his ninth season in the fall, which is well beyond the average life expectancy for running backs.
Ingram showed no signs of diminishing skills and he left little doubt that his preference would be to stay in New Orleans, but the process isn’t that simple.
“I was drafted here. I met my wife here. My children were born here,” Ingram said a few days before the NFC Championship loss to the Rams. “Very rarely does anybody get to spend their whole career in one place.
“I love New Orleans. I love this team. I love this organization. Hopefully everything works out, but it’s a business. I’m not looking just to up and leave New Orleans. We’ve got a good squad. I feel like we could do this type of things for many more years. So I’m not looking to bail out of New Orleans.”
Ingram’s future home likely will be determined by whether his market value proves to be significantly greater than what the Saints feel they can afford to pay a valued player and person who shares is position with a young star.
Here’s a list of New Orleans’ other free agents:
DB Chris Banjo
LB Vince Biegel
QB Teddy Bridgewater
DL Jay Bromley
WR Dez Bryant
OL Jermon Bushrod
CB Ken Crawley
DT Tyeler Davison
CB Justin Hardee
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
DB Rickey Jefferson
RB Daniel Lasco
OL Josh LeRibeus
WR/RS Tommylee Lewis
K Wil Lutz
OL Michael Ola
LB Craig Robertson
LB Manti Te’o
CB P.J. Williams
LS Zach Wood
Biegel, Hardee, Jefferson and Wood are exclusive rights free agents, meaning they cannot negotiate with other teams.
March 24-27 – League meetings in Phoenix
It’s safe to assume that a hot topic of conversation will be whether to add judgment calls, such as pass interference, to the list of reviewable plays by instant replay as a reaction to the egregious non-call that derailed the Saints’ NFC title march.
April 15 – Off-season workouts can begin
The Saints have not announced their schedule for off-season work and probably won’t for a few more weeks, but their off-season work figures to start close to this date.
April 19 – Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets
Wil Lutz is the Saints’ most significant restricted free agent, but it’s unlikely the organization will allow their kicker to test free agency. He figures to be re-signed after a record-setting season.
April 24 – Deadline to exercise right of first refusal for RFAs
If the Saints sign any restricted free agents to an offer sheet, this is the deadline by which they will learn if their overture was successful.
April 25-27 – NFL Draft in Nashville, Tenn.
The Saints have a second-round pick, a fifth-round pick, two sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks.
At some point in April, the NFL is expected to release the full schedule for next season – meaning dates and times will be added to the opponents and sites that we already know.
New Orleans figures to be involved in about a handful of prime-time games.
Here’s who the Saints play and where they play:
San Francisco 49ers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Rams
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…