Saints, NFL enter into 2014 free agency signing period (updated)

Mickey Loomis, executive vice president/general manager of the New Orleans Saints, talks with Saints head coach Sean Payton, right, in the first half of an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Phoenix Suns in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

Mickey Loomis, executive vice president/general manager of the New Orleans Saints, talks with Saints head coach Sean Payton, right, in the first half of an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Phoenix Suns in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

The 2014 free agency signing period for the Saints and the rest of the NFL opened at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Below is a list of Saints-related transactions that have been either reported, rumored or made official as free agency started. It will be updated throughout the evening as necessary, and under it is a brief synopsis of what’s happened prior to the start of free agency.

2014 Saints free agency chatter:

11:00 p.m. – At 7:16 p.m., The Detroit Free-Press’ Dave Birkett reported that Saints restricted free agent wide receiver Joe Morgan will visit with Kansas City. Morgan, one of four restricted free agents for New Orleans, was not given a tender, which would have given the Saints the right to match any offer sheet he signed.

8:30 p.m. - Saints spokesman Greg Bensel announced that the team has come to terms on a six-year deal with free-agent safety Jairus Byrd, a ball hawk who was one of the most coveted players at his position on the open market. Read The Advocate’s story on how the cap-strapped Saints delivered what was arguably the biggest splash on the first day of the free agency signing period. The item below about DeMarcus Ware seems to be even less likely than it already was. But, honestly, who knows with GM Mickey Loomis.

7:25 p.m. – It’s clear many Who Dats on social media will go to bed Tuesday night dreaming that coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan — who were once with the Cowboys — can somehow lure four-time All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware to the Saints. Dallas released Ware on Tuesday; after they ended their respective stints with the Cowboys, Payton won a Super Bowl, and Ryan tutored a Saints defense that improved from 32nd in 2012 to fourth in 2013.

6:18 p.m. (updated at 6:57 p.m.) – ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Saints running back Darren Sproles will likely be traded due to “heavy interest.” On Friday, there were reports he’d be cut if he couldn’t be dealt elsewhere; but he remained on the Saints’ roster as of Tuesday. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said more than 10 teams have inquired about making a trade for him. Sproles has one year and $3.5 million left on his current contract.

Sproles, who bid farewell to New Orleans via Twitter on Friday, led folks to believe he was in the dark about his own status. He logged on Twitter on Friday, said, “Wow!” and quoted an ESPN report about the interest in a trade for him.

He then posted, “The stuff u find out on Twitter.”

4:25 p.m. - The Saints have lost safety Malcolm Jenkins, according to the Eagles. Philadelphia confirmed that it signed Jenkins to a three-year deal.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter, first reported Jenkins’ deal with the Eagles. Citing an unnamed source, he said Jenkins’ deal was for three years and was worth $16.25 million. Philadelphia had been pegged as a possible landing spot for Jenkins for a while now.

Jenkins, New Orleans’ first-round draft pick in 2009, was a defensive captain last season and ranked among the leaders in tackles, pass breakups and interceptions for a team that ranked second against the pass. He also had 2.5 sacks and four tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year and helped the Saints win their lone Super Bowl title at the end of his rookie season.

The former Saint logged onto his Twitter shortly after word broke that he was leaving New Orleans. He expressed excitement about joining Philadelphia and said he was thankful for his tenure in black and gold:

 

Jenkins was one of eight players left from the Saints’ Super Bowl team. Two others are unrestricted free agents: wide receiver Robert Meachem and right tackle Zach Strief. Those under contract for now are quarterback Drew Brees, wideout Marques Colston, right guard Jahri Evans, punter Thomas Morstead and running back Pierre Thomas.

Following word of Jenkins’ departure, The Advocate confirmed via a league source that free-agent safety Jairus Byrd (Bills) was on his way to visit New Orleans. Byrd, who’s got six years of NFL experience, is a three-time Pro Bowl pick. He missed some time last year with a hurt foot but nonetheless had four interceptions and six pass break-ups and got in on 48 tackles. He is considered one of the top safeties on the market.

3:40 p.m. - All quiet with the Saints for now, but the Falcons say they have agreed to terms with free agent guard Jon Asamoah (Chiefs), defensive end Tyson Jackson (Chiefs) and nose tackle Paul Soliai (Dolphins). They’ve also re-signed center Joe Hawley and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Soliai’s deal is impressive: reportedly, it’s for five years and $33 million with $14 million guaranteed. The Falcons, who recently hired former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli as assistant GM, have been active in the first 40 minutes of free agency after finishing 4-12 in 2013.

Meanwhile, in other NFC South news: Carolina will not take action on iconic wide receiver Steve Smith, who is the subject of strong release rumors. … Tampa Bay’s moves reportedly include signing defensive end Michael Johnson (Bengals), defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (Seattle) and tight end Brandon Myers (Giants), and they’ve reportedly set up a visit with QB Josh McCown (Bears). Johnson’s deal is also notable: reportedly, it’s for four years, $28 million.

3 p.m. - NFL free agency and the start of the 2014 league year has arrived. Happy new year, Saints fans.

2:36 p.m. - ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan is reporting that Atlanta has re-signed center Joe Hawley to a two-year deal. The Falcons on Monday were said to be one of at least four teams who were interested in pursuing Saints center Brian de la Puente in free agency. The others were Tampa Bay and the New York Giants, and New Orleans has indicated it’d like to retain de la Puente if possible.

Prior to the start of the free agency:

New Orleans began Tuesday with 11 unrestricted free agents, headlined by safety Malcolm Jenkins, right tackle Zach Strief and de la Puente. They also had four unrestricted free agents, of whom only one has been tendered: safety Rafael Bush. That means Bush can accept an offer sheet from another team, but the Saints can match it if they want.

Prior to the start of free agency, which coincides with the beginning of the 2014 league year, New Orleans re-signed two of its potential unrestricted free agents — linebacker Keyunta Dawson and kicker Shayne Graham — to minimum one-year deals. They had also signed their two exclusive rights free agents, tackle Bryce Harris and cornerback Trevin Wade.

List of Saints free agents

Unrestricted (11)

T CHARLES BROWN: Started first 14 games at left tackle, but was plagued by penalties and was removed from the lineup midway through a Week 15 game.

DE KENYON COLEMAN: Missed the entire season after tearing a pectoral muscle in training camp. Saints won’t try to re-sign him and he’ll likely retire.

C BRIAN DE LA PUENTE: Has started 44 games since 2011, but could Saints be thinking about shaking things up after Drew Brees was sacked 37 times?

LB PARYS HARALSON: Came to the Saints in a trade just before season opener and showed veteran experience as a pass-rusher from his outside spot.

LB WILL HERRING: Veteran leader can fill in when needed, but made his biggest contributions as a special teams captain with 12 tackles last season.

LB RAMON HUMBER: Another solid special teams player who can capably fill in when needed as an inside linebacker and recorded 24 tackles in 2013.

FS MALCOLM JENKINS: Captain ranked among leaders in tackles, pass breakups and interceptions for team that ranked second against the pass.

QB LUKE McCOWN: Backup was the holder for extra points and field goals after winning the No. 2 job and could be back for another year.

WR ROBERT MEACHEM: Wasn’t a big contributor in the passing game, but is a solid blocker and averaged 20.3 yards per catch on 16 receptions.

S JORDAN PUGH: Didn’t get a chance to play because he was signed after the wild-card playoff game and was inactive for the divisional playoff game.

T ZACH STRIEF: Three-year starter and one of the team’s offensive captains had a solid season and was one of the most consistent players on the offensive line.

LB JONATHAN VILMA: Having been with the Saints since 2008, missed all but one game of the 2013 season with the latest in a series of knee ailments. The Saints said in February they’d let him leave in free agency.

Restricted (4)

S RAFAEL BUSH: Ascending player was tendered and could be the heir apparent to the starting job at free safety if Malcolm Jenkins moves on. He was given a minimum tender, which gives the Saints the right to match any offer sheet he may sign.

FB JED COLLINS: He can pick up tough short-yardage first downs and block effectively, but may not be tendered with lowest offer at $1.323 million.

DE TOM JOHNSON: Has played in 40 games in the defensive line rotation, but won’t be tendered after falling out of favor late in the season.

WR JOSEPH MORGAN: Is coming off a knee injury that will probably keep him sidelined until at least May.