The 2017 offseason for the New Orleans Saints could be the biggest one of Sean Payton’s career. This offseason could make or break him. The Saints should have between $25-35 million dollars in cap space. Easily, it’s the most they’ve had in a very long time. They should try to keep some of their own players that are free agents or contracts are almost up. It is also important that they put the money to good use in free agency and get the right players for their schemes.
After free agency is the NFL draft. It looks like the Saints will be picking somewhere between 8th and 12th overall. They don’t have a 5th Round pick due to trading up last year, which leaves them with six picks. Last year’s draft class has played very well, and hopefully the Saints can duplicate that success in 2017. Some of the top needs of the Saints are pass rusher, middle linebacker, cornerback, and guard.
Let’s start with the players that deserve to be re-signed or get an extension with the team. Kenny Vaccaro and Willie Snead both deserve a new four-year contract. Both have played awesome for the Saints. Vaccaro, a former first-round pick, is a standout on Dennis Allen’s defense. He is the most versatile defender on the team and a great leader. I know he got suspended for four games due to Adderall use, but that would have no effect on signing him to a new deal. Snead has been Mr. Reliable. He has great hands, is a great route runner, and is perfect in the Saints offense. Those two are pretty obvious to me.
Next we have two free agents the Saints signed this past year that both worked out for the Saints. I would be speaking about Nick Fairley and Sterling Moore. I believe both have played great for the Saints and should get three-year extensions. The only problem is Fairley may have played too well. His asking price will probably be pretty high, and teams will offer him a lot of money. I’m not sure if the Saints should overpay for him. Hopefully they are able to retain him because with him, Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison in the middle the Saints have a nice trio that they can count on.
Sterling Moore was a huge surprise for me. He always hustles and never gives up on plays. Can play inside and outside, but I think he is better suited for the inside nickel spot. He’s only 26 years old and deserves to stay in the black and gold. Then there are four players who should get one-year extensions. They’re Drew Brees (extend through 2018), Jahri Evans, Tim Hightower, and John Kuhn. All have played well for the Saints. The team should also pick up the fifth-year option on Brandin Cooks.
Next is free agency, which is hard to figure out this early because a lot of players could and will re-sign with the teams they’re on now. Some of the players I believe the Saints should target if they do become free agents are: Melvin Ingram (EDGE), Chandler Jones (EDGE), Jabaal Sheard (EDGE), Jason Pierre-Paul (EDGE), Trumaine Johnson (CB), Stephon Gilmore (CB), Dre Kirkpatrick (CB), A.J. Bouye (CB), Joe Haden (CB), Ronald Leary (Guard), Chance Warmack (Guard), Dont’a Hightower (MLB), Zach Brown (MLB), Eric Berry (Safety), and Cordarrelle Patterson (WR/KR).
Ideally, the Saints would get two or three of these players in free agency. The perfect scenario would be Melvin Ingram, Trumaine Johnson, and Chance Warmack. That would address three key needs of the Saints, leaving only a few needs left come the draft. The Saints would then be able to draft the best player available (BPA) in some rounds instead of reaching for a need if it comes up. However, free agency is just as hard to predict as the draft is. The good news is that the Saints are finally not cap-strapped and can make some moves in free agency. It would be nice to spend some money on some solid free agents and still have money leftover for the next year.
Finally, there is the NFL Draft. Luckily for the Saints this draft is loaded with talented edge rushers and cornerbacks. Which leads us to the question of should the Saints jump on those positions first, or go for a position group that doesn’t have depth in it (like MLB) and then grab the edge rusher and cornerback in the next rounds since there are so many. It really depends on who is left on the board when the Saints pick. My top six players for the Saints that could be there between picks 10th to 15th are:
Reuben Foster - MLB, Alabama
Adding Foster to the Saints linebacking corps would bring an intimidating presence in the middle of the field. He is intelligent, physical, and instinctive on the field. He’s a natural leader and plays through injuries. Having him in the middle of the Saints defense would be a nice upgrade, and could allow Craig Robertson to return to the weak side.
Derek Barnett - DE, Tennessee
The Saints have been in need of a pass rusher opposite of Cameron Jordan for some time now. Barnett would be exactly that. He is quick off the line and has a series of pass rushing moves. Could you imagine having Barnett with Fairley, Rankins, and Cam Jordan on the line? That could be something special.
Zach Cunningham - MLB, Vanderbilt
Cunningham is one of those players that seem to be good at everything. This tall, lanky linebacker isn’t afraid to get physical when he needs to be, but he really shines in coverage. Arguably, he could be the best coverage linebacker in this year’s draft. So not only can Cunningham play the middle, but he also can play weak side too. The Saints tend to have problems with their linebackers in coverage, and he could change that.
Tim Williams - EDGE, Alabama
He is explosive off the ball and could have the fastest first step. Williams is easily one of the top pure pass rushers in this year’s draft. He has a wide variety of pass rush moves that could make it hard on opposing quarterbacks on passing downs. He’s shown decent coverage skills for an edge rusher. I’d expect him to put on some weight so that he can play against the run a little better.
Jabrill Peppers - S/LB, Michigan
He is probably the most versatile player in this year’s draft. He could play linebacker or safety for the Saints. He is a really athletic, instinctive player, and a straight up playmaker, which is exactly what the Saints need on defense. Not only is he a great defender, but also he has great return skills on special teams, which is also something the Saints lack. He could be a nice fit for the Saints if he’s still there when they draft.
Marlon Humphrey - CB, Alabama
The more talented cornerbacks the Saints have on their roster the better. It seems like every year they’re having to get a new one during the season because of injury. Humphrey is a talented playmaking corner, who is long with great ball skills. He doesn’t mind coming up and tackling the ball carrier, which a lot of corners don’t do very well. He is good man-to-man corner with great size and speed, which is hard to find, so grabbing Humphrey wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Here are some names of other players to keep an eye on during the draft process that the Saints could target:
2nd/3rd Round Targets
- Takkarist McKinley - EDGE, UCLA
- Jarrad Davis - MLB, Florida
- Raekwon McMillan - MLB, Ohio St
- Carl Lawson - EDGE, Auburn
- Desmond King - CB, Iowa
- Taylor Moton - G/T, Western Michigan
- Charles Harris - EDGE, Missouri
- Dorian Johnson - G, Pittsburgh
- Ryan Anderson - EDGE, Alabama
- DeMarcus Walker - EDGE, Florida St
- Tre’Davious White - CB, LSU
- Adoree Jackson - CB, USC
- Jourdan Lewis - CB, Michigan
The Saints Perfect Offseason
Saints Free Agents
- Kenny Vaccaro - 4-Year Deal
- Willie Snead - 4-Year Deal
- Nick Fairley - 3-Year Deal
- Sterling Moore - 3 Year Deal
- Drew Brees - 1-Year Deal
- Jahri Evans - 1-Year Deal
- John Kuhn - 1-Year Deal
- Tim Hightower - 1-Year Deal
Free Agency Additions
Jake’s Perfect 7-Round Mock Draft
- 1st Round: Reuben Foster - MLB, Alabama
- 2nd Round: Takkarist McKinley - EDGE, UCLA
- 3rd Round: Taylor Moton - G/T, Western Michigan
- 4th Round: Chidobe Awuzie - CB, Colorado
- 6th Round: Donnel Pumphrey - RB, San Diego State
- 7th Round: Vince Biegel - OLB, Wisconsin