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Looking ahead at the 2020 Saints free agents

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How will next year's free agents affect the Saints 2019 draft strategy?

Divisional Round - Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints look poised to make another run at a championship in 2019. So far this offseason, they have re-signed many of their own free agents like kicker Wil Lutz, linebacker Craig Robertson, and defensive backs Chris Banjo and Justin Hardee to maintain a solid special teams squad and good depth on an up and coming defense. That defense looks potentially stronger, even with the loss of end Alex Okafor, with the added signings of defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Mario Edwards Jr. The Saints offense hopes to offset the sting of losing productive veterans Mark Ingram, Max Unger, and Benjamin Watson with the apparent signing of tight end Jared Cook along with running back Latavius Murray and offensive lineman Nick Easton. The talented Saints possess one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, and face a few tough contractual decisions over the next couple of seasons. Many teams make their free agent and draft decisions based not only on what holes may need addressed on their current roster, but also keeping in mind future potential free agent losses. Based off their current roster status, here is a list of the current New Orleans players whose contracts expire after the upcoming 2019 season.

(Contract numbers obtained from spotrac.com )

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Michael Thomas, WR

Drew Brees, QB

Teddy Bridgewater, QB

David Onyemata, DT

Vonn Bell, SS

Andrus Peat, G

A.J. Klein, LB

Cameron Meredith, WR

Zach Line, FB

Dwayne Washington, RB

Marcus Sherels, CB/PR

Michael Ola, OT

Ken Crawley, CB

Derek Newton, OT

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Cameron Tom, C/G

Justin Hardee, CB

Taysom Hill, QB

Dan Arnold, TE

Austin Carr, WR

Vince Biegel, LB

Zach Wood, LS

TEAM OPTION

Sheldon Rankins, DT

Eli Apple, CB

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Saints biggest decision, outside of number 9 and the quarterback position of course, is regarding Thomas. The 26-yr. old wideout has established himself as one of the best offensive weapons in the game. He led the NFL in receptions in 2018, and has set both team and league records for his production. Thomas will almost certainly command an average yearly salary of over 20 million dollars per year in a new deal, and will probably be the highest paid receiver in the game once signing a new contract. New Orleans may try to negotiate a new contract with Thomas during the season, but if a new deal cannot be reached then the All-Pro wideout is certainly a candidate for a franchise tag before he would hit the open market.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Onyemata and Bell are two players who have improved in each of their three seasons, and now enter a contract year on the cusp of setting up big paydays. Onyemata, who will earn 2.16 million in 2019, could face a league suspension for a misdemeanor marijuana arrest in February, is expected to be a disruptive inside force for the defense with Rankins likely to miss the first portion of the year.

Bell has finished first or second on the team in tackles in each of his three years, and and has improved his coverage skills in each of those years. He will count 1.26 million against the cap in 2019, and has been one of the defense's most consistent players.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Some have suggested that Peat, the 13th overall pick of the 2015 draft, could be a potential cap casualty this offseason. His base salary escalates from 1.99 million in 2018 to 9.63m this season, but all of that would be dead cap space if New Orleans were to release him at any time. Klein will count 6 million dollars against the Saints salary cap this season, with a base salary of 4.1 million. If New Orleans were to release him before June 1, they would save 3.6 million against the cap, but create 2.4 in dead space. A release after June 1st however would create 4.6 million in cap space for this season, but cause 1.4 million in dead cap for 2019, with an additional 1 million in dead cap space for 2020.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

This is not to suggest that the Saints move on from Peat or Klein prior to the 2019 season. Both players, as have many on this list, have been instrumental to the team's success over the last two seasons. We've all seen general manager Mickey Loomis and the New Orleans front office juggle contracts and players many times over the years though, and as noted there are some potentially huge contracts that this franchise is facing over the next couple of seasons. The Saints do not currently have a pick in the 1st, 3rd, or 4th rounds of next month's draft, but do have a total of six draft picks. The team looks poised to make another Super Bowl run, with a roster deep in talent at nearly every position, even though Jared Cook has yet to officially sign his contract with the team. New Orleans will certainly address some of their remaining needs with the picks that they use, but how they use those picks may also give us an insight into pending free agent decisions into the 2020 season.