Top 10 Best free agents signed by the Saints:
10. Quinn Early
OK., I’m breaking my own rules a little bit, because this was a free agent signing before the 1993 free agency. Quinn Early arrived to the Saints via the NFL’s first attempt at free agency –a system called Plan B (1989-92).
Plan B was a program that allowed teams to protect up to 37 players whose contracts were expiring. A protected player could not sign with another club without the old team an opportunity to match the contract offer or receive compensation from the team who signed the player to an offer sheet. Unprotected players could be signed without any compensation.
Keep in mind, terms like “restricted” and “unrestricted” free agents didn’t exist, so while this sounds a lot like the current FA system, this was the limit to free agency. This restriction would be the reason 8 player, including Bobby Hebert would lead a successful fight in federal court to get true free agency.
But that would be in the future… right now, the Saints would sign their first successful unprotected Plan B free agent, Quinn Early.
Early was drafted by the San Diego Chargers out of Iowa in round 3 of the 1988 draft. Early was not only left unprotected by the Chargers, but told that he would not be re-signed by the team, even if no one else signed him.
The Saints had Eric Martin as their primary receiving threat, but the Saints had been unable to find a successful counterpart. Mike Jones and Lorenzo “Mo” Hill both were unable to do the job, so the Saints signed Early for the 1991 season.
Early quickly earned the job opposite Martin, starting 12 games. Early became a stabilizing force for the offense, but it was really once Martin was gone and Jim Everett came on board that Early had his best seasons.
In 1994, Early caught 82 passes for 894 yards and 4 TDs. In 1995, with Michael Haynes and TE Wesley Walls, the Saints had their most explosive offense since the 1979 team, Early caught 81 passes for 1,087 yards and 8 TDs.
Ironically, instead of building on that success, the Saints chose to let Early and Walls go. It was a stunning reversal of what the Saints had been building over the past couple of seasons. Everett bitterly complained to the media that the Saints released some of his most dependable weapons.
The offense regressed immediately, and the Saints collapsed from a 7-9 record in 1995 to a 3-13 season.
Early has two solid seasons in Buffalo, but by 1998-99, his career was over.
With Sean Payton’s offense, fans are used to seeing multiple receiving threats, but until Early’s arrival only the tandem of Wes Chandler and Ike Harris (1978-80) was the closest the Saints had to two consistent receiving threats on the field at the same time.
After football, Early used his martial arts training to be a part time actor and stuntman, appearing in films such as Olympus Has Fallen.