Grading Saints in free agency: Show restraint, but still have 'must' positions to fill

The Saints could look to Cameron Meredith to add depth at receiver. Merle Laswell/Icon Sportswire

A breakdown of the initial wave of free agency for the New Orleans Saints:

Overall grade: C-plus. The Saints have shown restraint -- which can often be the smartest strategy in free agency -- by not overpaying for some of the big names they considered, such as Jimmy Graham, Ndamukong Suh, Jordy Nelson and Muhammad Wilkerson. And they have added several veterans in the second- and third-tier price ranges who should help immediately (including LB Demario Davis, S Kurt Coleman, CB Patrick Robinson and TE Benjamin Watson). But they didn’t necessarily get all of those guys at bargain rates (Davis and Coleman were among the most expensive free agents at their positions). And New Orleans still has at least two “must” positions left to fill at edge rusher and receiver, according to coach Sean Payton, with only one pick in the top 90 of this year’s draft.

Most significant signing: Obviously quarterback Drew Brees -- even though there was never any real threat that he might leave as an unrestricted free agent. He still makes the Saints a top Super Bowl contender at age 39, and they got him back on a team-friendly two-year, $50 million contract that included only $27 million guaranteed. But I'll give runner-up status in this category to another veteran the Saints re-signed, DE Alex Okafor. The 27-year-old is something of a question mark since he's recovering from a torn Achilles, but was a terrific fit in his first year in New Orleans last season. The Saints also got him at a big discount (two years, $6.8 million, only $1.5 million guaranteed).

Most significant loss: OL Senio Kelemete. The biggest name the Saints let get away was safety Kenny Vaccaro, but that was their decision, as they chose to move on with Coleman and Robinson instead. Kelemete, meanwhile, is a player they would have loved to keep if possible. He was an invaluable backup at all five O-line positions, which is extremely rare. But they knew it would be tough to keep him if another team offered a starting job and starting money, which the Houston Texans did.

Player they should have signed: DE Jason Pierre-Paul. I'm cheating a little here since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers acquired Pierre-Paul via trade. But it only cost them a mid-round draft pick, in addition to the three years and $39.5 million left on his contract. As I said before, I appreciate the restraint the Saints showed by not paying mega-millions for any one star player. But if there was one marquee difference-maker available who could have put the Saints over the top as Super Bowl contenders, it might have been Pierre-Paul -- considering their need for an edge rusher and the fact that he is the type of big, every-down DE they typically covet. The Bucs also signed another one of the top DEs on the market in Vinny Curry, so the Saints should be extra envious of their division rivals.

Additions: Davis, LB; Coleman, S; Robinson, CB; Watson, TE; Tom Savage, QB; Jermon Bushrod, OL.

Re-signed: Brees, QB; Okafor, DE; George Johnson, DE.

Subtractions: Kelemete, OL; Chase Daniel, QB; Rafael Bush, S; Jonathan Freeny, LB.

What’s next: Payton made it clear the Saints still need to add an edge rusher and receiver in free agency or the draft, and he said the front seven in general was a priority heading into this offseason. One possible option is Chicago Bears restricted free-agent receiver Cameron Meredith, whom they visited with last weekend to see how he is recovering from his torn ACL. It's unclear whether they have shown interest in some of the other top remaining free agents on the market, including receiver Jordan Matthews, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and defensive end Robert Ayers. But they do always stress that this is the time in free agency when teams often find the best value.