METAIRIE, La. -- Just because the New Orleans Saints are willing to trade an offensive star such as receiver Brandin Cooks doesn’t mean they’re completely ignoring that side of the ball. They made their biggest splash of free agency (so far) by agreeing to a deal with Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford, according to Warford's agents, Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod.
Terms: Four years, $34 million, $8.4 million signing bonus and $17 million in total guarantees.
ESPN 150 ranking: No. 21
Grade B-plus: This was pretty good value for the Saints, considering they landed one of the top guards on the free-agent market without having to pay top dollar for Kevin Zeitler, who earned a reported $12 million per year by choosing the Cleveland Browns over the Saints. And they addressed one of their top needs, since longtime starting right guard Jahri Evans is 33 years old and a free agent. Guard wasn't New Orleans' No. 1 need, but this was a good year to be in the market for a top guard, since there were so many of them available.
What it means: No team has valued interior linemen more than the Saints over the past decade -- dating to when they made Evans the highest-paid guard in NFL history in 2010. Their offense was never better than when Evans and Carl Nicks were All-Pro guards from 2009 to 2011, and they have also invested heavily in recent years in current center Max Unger and former guard Ben Grubbs. In other words, the Saints see the value in spending big up the middle while continuing to replenish a line that is now loaded with Warford, Unger, left tackle Terron Armstead, right tackle Zach Strief and left guard Andrus Peat. This move probably means the Saints will move on from Evans, however. They also will need to replace Strief sooner than later.
What's the risk: Warford didn't come cheap, so the Saints had to pay peak value for a 25-year-old who just hit his prime in time for free agency. The 6-foot-3, 317-pounder battled some nagging injuries and a little inconsistency earlier in his career. But there is little doubt about his talent and potential -- and he is considered both a standout run blocker and pass protector. He should be great insurance for both Drew Brees and the next quarterback.