The New Orleans Saints finished 2018 just three points and a couple of corrupt officials away from their second Super Bowl. While that will sting everyone associated with the NFC Championship game forever, it is now back to business for the back to back NFC South champs. The Saints do not have alot of salary cap room to work with (numbers vary, according to sources), but that's never been a major obstacle for general manager Mickey Loomis in the past. The Saints have had free agent success in recent years by avoiding the big-name veterans who carry large contracts but are past their prime, instead bringing in younger players who may be just entering their prime at slightly lower price tags. Players like Demario Davis, Larry Warford, Alex Okafor, and A.J. Klein may not have been household names entering free agency, but have been vital to the team's playoff runs in each of the last two seasons. New Orleans has a championship caliber roster, but here are a few moves that I predict will happen near the onset of free agency that could bolster the Saints toward their pursuit of a second championship.
Will re-sign running back Mark Ingram
Other than Le'Veon Bell, Ingram may be the best running back available in free agency if the Saints allow him to hit the open market. He's 29 years old, ancient for some backs, but has little mileage on him over his 8-yr. career. After two straight seasons of over 1,000-yds. rushing, Ingram's stats dipped a bit in '18, as he finished with 645 yards and six touchdowns. He is a bowling ball between the tackles though, with the speed to get to the outside or break a run in the open field. He is also an underrated receiver and excellent pass blocker, making the combination of Ingram and Alvin Kamara perhaps the most dynamic and versatile running back duos in the NFL. Ingram has expressed desire to remain in New Orleans, but with numerous suitors likely willing to make him their unquestioned top back, the Saints would be wise to lock him up before the official signing period begins. If they are unable to do so, then the team could set their sites on a young vet like T.J. Yeldon of the Jaguars or Spencer Ware of the Chiefs to ease the workload on Kamara and select a young back on Day 3 of the draft.
Maxx Williams, TE (Ravens)
Williams leaves a Ravens team that is deep at tight end. A second round pick out of Minnesota in the 2015 draft, Williams will turn 25 this spring but has yet to play a full season in his four year career due to injuries. He has soft hands, along with good acceleration in the open field, and has developed into a solid in-line blocker. He has 63 career receptions for 497 yards and 3 scores in 42 games of action, with his best year coming as a rookie, when he finished with 32 catches for 268 yards and a touchdown. Williams will be a far cheaper option than most of the tight ends available in a light free agent class, and the Saints would be wise to use a draft pick on a young tight end, but he has long term starting potential if he can remain healthy.
Darius Philon, DT (Chargers)
One of the strongest units on the team in 2018, questions now surround the Saints defensive tackles. Star tackle Sheldon Rankins suffered an Achilles injury during the playoffs and may not be available until midseason, Tyeler Davison is an unrestricted free agent, and David Onyemata may face a league suspension for a marijuana arrest in February. Enter Philon, a powerful 6'1 300-lb. 25-yr. old disruptor. Originally a 6th round pick from Arkansas in the 2015 draft, Philon has 8.5 sacks and 18 qb hits over the last two seasons, starting 13 games for the Chargers last year. While not a big name lineman, Philon has a quick burst off the snap into the backfield and has improved his all-around game each season. A player like Philon could certainly be another disruptive presence along an already talented Saints defensive line.
Adrian Amos, S (Bears)
Amos, not the biggest name in a deep, star-studded group of free agent safeties, was a key part of an opportunistic and top ranked Bears defense a year ago. A 5th round pick from Penn State in the 2015 draft, Amos has started 56 games in four seasons, intercepting 3 passes in the last two years. Normally a free safety, Amos has fluid coverage abilities, good natural instincts, and the athleticism to take on a tight end or slot receiver. A player like Amos could be to the Saints secondary what Demario Davis was to their linebacking corps a year ago.
While some marquee names were already being linked to new teams on Monday afternoon at high priced deals, news out of Saints camp was almost eerily (but not unusually) quiet. Here are other names that I could see possibly ending up in a New Orleans uniform:
Yeldon, Ware, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (TE-Jaguars), Bryce Callahan (CB-Bears), Corey Graham (S-Eagles), Bennie Logan (DT-Titans), Danny Shelton (DT-Patriots), Donte Moncrief (WR-Jaguars), Russell Shepard (WR-Giants)
In addition to Ingram, possibly the biggest moves New Orleans could make involve their own players. The team has already retained a few special teams aces and important defensive depth by re-signing linebacker Craig Robertson, along with defensive backs Chris Banjo and Justin Hardee. They may be able to retain Davison at defensive tackle, and seem interested in bringing back defensive end Alex Okafor, who were both important parts of their defensive line rotation in 2018. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater may also be re-signed, if he is unable to latch on to a starting job elsewhere. Loomis and head coach Sean Payton may have to make some tough decisions on players like guard Andrus Peat, center Max Unger, or Klein at linebacker. All have big cap numbers in 2019, and may be asked to restructure or face possible trade or even release. Although the New Orleans Saints are not in a position that they have to revamp their talented roster, we can be sure that by the end of the week there will be new faces added, as well as the potential departure of a couple old friends.