The offseason is about to kick into high gear with free agency right around the corner. If the New Orleans Saints are looking to have another stellar year, then they have to address some needs in free agency.
Last year, they were able to get one of the top guards in the league in Larry Warford. He turned out to be one of the best pickups in the NFL. Alex Okafor was holding down the opposite side of Cam Jordan well until he had a season-ending injury. Ted Ginn Jr. had probably his best season of his career. A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o were both good pickups as well, so let’s hope the Saints have another good offseason that starts with a strong free agency.
The Saints have around an estimated $33 million in cap space, but still need to re-sign some of their own free agents. I also expect some players to have their contracts restructured, giving the Saints more cap space. I believe the Saints could go after one or two big name players, but will go for more of the cheaper and productive guys. Some of the top needs for the Saints this offseason are: defensive end, linebacker, wide receiver, tight end, and cornerback. Here are a few players I believe the Saints should be interested in come free agency:
Top Tier: Demarcus Lawrence (Tagged), Ezekiel Ansah (Tagged)
Tier Two: Alex Okafor, Adrian Clayborn, Trent Murphy, Kareem Martin
Tier Three: Aaron Lynch, Tank Carradine, William Hayes, Jerry Attaochu
The defensive end free agency class is a down one this year. Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah have just recently been tagged, which was expected. It would be really nice if the Saints could find a way to keep Alex Okafor. He was a good fit for the team last year and played really well against the run. Hopefully he makes a full recovery back from the Achilles injury.
Trent Murphy would be an interesting player for the Saints to go after. He’s kind of that DE/OLB hybrid type player. He missed all of last year with a torn ACL, but the year before that finished the season with nine sacks. Murphy did get suspended for four games last year for the league’s substance abuse policy, which could make him a little bit cheaper in free agency. Aaron Lynch and Jeremiah Attaochu would both be solid young rotational players for the Saints as well. With this free agency class being scarce, I think the Saints should definitely address defensive end in the draft.
Top Tier: Nigel Bradham, Avery Williamson, Zach Brown, Tahir Whitehead
Tier Two: Anthony Hitchens, Preston Brown, Demario Davis
Tier Three: Najee Goode, NaVorro Bowman, Keenan Robinson
The linebacker class is a little better than the defensive end, but not by much. Zach Brown is a player I was hoping to land last year. He is an athletic player with great coverage skills. However, it’s been reported that he is wanting to get paid close to $10 million per year, which is too much for the Saints to pay.
Avery Williamson is one of those players that has been going under the radar but his play has been outstanding. He’s a young and talented linebacker who is excellent at playing the run. He’s not the greatest when it comes to being in coverage, but he’s got a little better at it over the years.
Nigel Bradham is probably the best coverage linebacker in free agency. He helped the Philadelphia Eagles win their first Super Bowl. He is an all-around good linebacker and would be nice addition. Anthony Hitchens and Preston Brown would help bring some athleticism to the linebacker group of the Saints. They both are young and have a lot of potential.
Top Tier: Jarvis Landry (Tagged), Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins
Tier Two: Marqise Lee, Paul Richardson, Donte Moncrief, Jordan Matthews, Albert Wilson
Tier Three: Cody Latimer, Taylor Gabriel, John Brown, Dontrelle Inman, Brice Butler
I believe the Saints are definitely going to get one of these players in free agency. This wide receiver class is young and talented. It’s looking more and more like Jarvis Landry is out of the picture, but luckily for the Saints there are some pretty talented young wide receivers in free agency this year.
Allen Robinson is clearly the best one, in my eyes. He’s coming off an ACL injury, but I expect his price to be high, so I don’t believe the Saints will be able to hang with other teams to get him.
The tier two group is really where I think the Saints will go to get a receiver. Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Albert Wilson, Paul Richardson, and Donte Moncrief all seem to be nice fits for the Saints. Grabbing one of these receivers in free agency will take a need away for the Saints come draft time so that they can focus on other positions. Moncrief and Matthews would be my top two best fits, but they all would be nice additions. Taylor Gabriel and John Brown could be possibilities as well. If the Saints can get a receiver to go along with the ones they already have the offense could be a juggernaut for defenses.
Top Tier: Jimmy Graham
Tier Two: Trey Burton, Tyler Eifert, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Tier Three: Richard Rodgers
The tight end class is pretty limited this year. Saints fans know Jimmy Graham well and some would love to see him back in the black and gold. Others? Not so much. He is still really athletic and a great red zone target. If the price is right, then I wouldn’t mind having him back. Giving Brees another weapon to use and a familiar one at that could make a huge difference.
Trey Burton is a young and athletic tight end who could be a solid pickup for the Saints. He could become something special if he decides to come to New Orleans. I’d expect there to be a pretty big market for Burton, which could push the Saints out of the market for him.
Tyler Eifert is an extremely talented tight end, but his injury history is scary. If the Saints are interested, I would think the contract would have a lot of incentives on it so he can prove that he is finally and fully healthy. This draft class has a deep and talented tight end group, so don’t be surprised if the Saints pass on this position in free agency and then grab one in the draft.
Top Tier: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Aaron Colvin
Tier Two: Kyle Fuller (Tagged), Bashaud Breeland, Nickell Robey-Coleman, E.J. Gaines, Rashaan Melvin. T.J. Carrie
Tier Three: Morris Claiborne, Prince Amukamara
Last, we have the cornerback position. The Saints are set on the outside with Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, but they could definitely use a slot corner. Two of the best are Malcolm Butler and Aaron Colvin. If the Saints could somehow get one of them, the Saints secondary would be looking really nice. Both are the physical corners that don’t shy away from tackles.
Nickell Robey-Coleman, E.J. Gaines, and T.J. Carrie would all be nice upgrades at the position as well. Robey-Coleman is the small, scrappy type with nice coverage skills. Gaines has been on the injury report for quite awhile, but when he is on the field the guy is a playmaker. His injury history scares me, but if he can stay healthy it would be a really nice signing for Saints. Carrie came along nicely this past year. He could be a nice find for the Saints and wouldn’t cost too much.
Bashaud Breeland is an intriguing player to me. I think the Saints could let him be a full-time slot corner and that he could be a standout at the position. Trumaine Johnson is a really good player, but is more of an outside corner and will cost quite a bit of money. Kyle Fuller would be a nice free agent as well, but I don’t see that happening now that the Chicago Bears slapped the transitional tag on him. However, I fully expect the Saints to grab one of these corners in free agency.
The Saints have to be aggressive in this free agency. They’re only missing a few pieces. If they can add a few in free agency, then it could be what puts them over the top. The team’s top priority is signing Drew Brees. After that, I would expect them to talk to Alex Okafor and Senio Kelemete. Hopefully, they can re-sign them, but the prices have to be right. Okafor has the best chance of re-signing, while Kelemete seems like a bit of a long shot to return. He’ll most likely wants to start somewhere and get paid, and you can’t blame him if he does leave.
Ideally, the Saints re-sign Brees and Okafor and then in free agency they will add a wide receiver (Donte Moncrief), nickel corner (Aaron Colvin), tight end, and possibly a lineman or two if the Saints lose Kelemete and Zach Strief (potential retirement). That would leave linebacker and defensive end as the primary needs in the upcoming draft. No matter what, I fully expect Mickey Loomis and the Saints to make some waves in free agency.