Safety Jairus Byrd will be available when free agency begins.
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NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday the New Orleans Saints will release the veteran secondary man when free agency begins March 9, per a source. The 30-year-old Byrd played the last three seasons in New Orleans after playing his first five years in the league in Buffalo.
When Byrd entered free agency following the 2013 season, he was one of the most highly coveted players on the market — including being listed as the No. 1 available on Around the NFL’s top 101 free agents that offseason. He was later named the biggest free-agent flop by Around the NFL following the 2014 season. Byrd signed a six-year contract with the Saints with $28 million in guaranteed money to come to New Orleans.
Byrd never matched those expectations. His career there got off to a bad start as he suffered a torn meniscus just four games into his first season with his new team. He totaled just three interceptions the next two years in New Orleans. Byrd had nine interceptions in his rookie campaign alone.
The team signed former Lions guard Larry Warford on Thursday. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday that Warford’s deal is worth $34 million over four years with $17 million in guarantees.
A third-round pick in 2013, Warford started 57 of a possible 64 games over four seasons in Detroit. He was ranked No. 21 on Around The NFL’s list of the Top 101 free agents.
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While the Saints have made it a priority to restock their beleaguered defense, upgrading at guard was the primary focus on the other side of the ball. Before honing in on Warford, they made a run at Kevin Zeitler, who will become the highest-paid guard in the league with Cleveland.
Rapoport first reported in December that “Cooks’ frustration with his role in the offense led some to wonder if this is the best system for his talents, something the Saints likely will explore in the offseason.”
Saints head coach Sean Payton spoke to the team’s official website about the Cooks trade talk.
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“Brandin is someone who we value tremendously in our system. He’s been extremely productive. He’s everything we were wanting when we drafted him,” Payton said. “These news items come up and there are a lot of meetings that take place here. I wouldn’t say he’s on the trade block, but certainly when a team calls — a team that’s looking for a receiver and we’re looking to improve our defense — we’re always listening.
“I know Mickey (Loomis) has probably spoken to a handful of GMs or presidents with other teams. Right now, I’m comfortable, we’re comfortable with him in a Saints uniform, and we think the world of him and his skill set. It would have to be something real significant. That’s part of being at the combine and that’s one of the things that takes place down here and that news certainly spreads quicker now than it would 10 years ago.”
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Cooks spent portions of last year unhappy about his diminished role in the attack, but the fourth-year receiver still wound up with 78 catches for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns, down just six catches from 2015. His overall targets dropped from 129 two seasons ago to 117 in 2016, but Cooks is part of a crowded house at the receiver position.
Second-year pass-catcher Michael Thomas is a sensational talent and Willie Snead also thrived last season. Trading away Cooks comes with the risk of finding his replacement, but New Orleans could certainly net a valuable draft pick in a swap.
As for the Titans and Eagles, they line up as super-logical landing spots for Cooks. He’d immediately morph into a featured target in either offense while giving Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota or Philly’s Carson Wentz a new best friend.
For teams looking for a sure thing over drafting a developmental prospect, Cooks has emerged as a juicy offseason option.