The New Orleans Saints enter their season finale looking to play spoilers against the Atlanta Falcons. While 2016 didn’t go the way anyone wanted it to, the reality is things are looking up. For many players, it could be their last game action with the Saints and even the NFL, as nothing is guaranteed.
The Saints have over 20 free agents through a combination of exclusive rights, restricted, and unrestricted players. You’ve likely heard a lot of talk that the Saints have a better outlook for 2017, but probably aren’t fully aware of why. For starters, the black and gold have nearly 50 players returning under contract next season. They’ll also have ample salary cap space of at least $24 million to work with, and could easily get more by restructuring some deals and/or making some cuts.
All that being said with the addition of draft picks and such, who are some players that should be back next season? We’ll specifically focus on the unrestricted guys.
Sterling Moore, Cornerback
If 2016 has taught us anything, then it’s the need to carry additional players in the secondary. It’s very uncharacteristic for a team to nearly lose their entire secondary, especially so early on in the year. Moore, who turns 27 in February, has proven to be a very good addition to Dennis Allen’s defense for a ‘street guy’. He’ll likely be in line for a bigger deal in the offseason, and should definitely generate some outside interest.
Kyle Wilson, Cornerback
Way back before the season even started, the Saints lost Kyle Wilson in their secondary after he sustained a torn labrum in his shoulder at the end of June. While many likely forgot about him, there’s a case to be made for bringing Wilson back in 2017. For starters, he’ll be relatively cheap. The Saints had plenty of interest re-signing Wilson after the 2015 season, and he graded out as one of the few positive players on a porous defense. A veteran minimum deal sounds just about right for a player that could compete for the Saints secondary that has question marks with Damian Swann and P.J. Williams.
John Kuhn, Fullback
Assuming that he wants to return for a 12th season, the Saints should give some consideration to bringing back John Kuhn. Sean Payton’s offensive attack is one of the few remaining that utilize the fullback, and Kuhn has been in on nearly 25 percent of the team’s snaps this season. After serving as a long-time option for the Packers, Kuhn easily became the epitome of one man’s trash as another’s treasure. Of course, the return of Michael Hoomanwanui could affect the impact of a fullback. No matter how you slice it, the Saints don’t have any other options at the moment for next year.
Tim Hightower, Running Back
After facing a strong amount of uncertainty for his football future, the Saints took a chance on Tim Hightower in 2015 on a reserve/future deal. It has certainly paid dividends, as he’s become a very strong backup to Mark Ingram and can still dish it out when he’s called upon. Hightower will turn 31 in May, and it’d be wise for the Saints to lock him up prior to free agency starting, because he’d absolutely generate some interest from other teams. He’s certainly earned a little more than the veteran minimum deal, and could finish out his career with the Saints on a two or three-year deal.
Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle
You won’t see any New Orleans Saints free agency lists without Nick Fairley, and rightfully so. The market value for Fairley is rising, but it’s good to know that Sean Payton has publicly acknowledged that the team wants to spend a lot of time working on and hopefully re-sign him. The Saints have lacked and interior lineman presence for quite some time, and the pairing of Sheldon Rankins and Fairley have been stellar with Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata serving as backups. Arguably, this has been the best defensive interior the Saints have had in the Sean Payton Era.