The New Orleans Saints have built one of the most talented rosters in the NFL over the last three seasons. The team has a superstar at nearly every position, but outside of quarterback Drew Brees has one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. The Saints have built this juggernaut primarily through the draft and younger free agent signings. Much of this team's top talent is younger than 27 years old, and just entering the prime of their careers. The only downside to successful drafts however, is that the majority of those player's contracts expire at the same time, and it is next to impossible for a team to keep every star under the NFL's salary cap. New Orleans has already locked down one of the league's best defensive linemen in Cameron Jordan to a lucrative extension this offseason, and is reportedly nearing a new deal with Michael Thomas, one of the best receivers in the game. The Saints still have a number of very tough contractual decisions to make in the next few years though. New Orleans starters David Onyemata, Vonn Bell, Zach Line, Eli Apple, Andrus Peat, and A.J. Klein are among a handful of contracts due to expire at the conclusion of this season, including Drew Brees himself. Despite Saints general manager Mickey Loomis' genius ability to juggle salary cap figures, it seems likely that we will see at least a few of the team's current core depart over the next 2-3 seasons. Here are some current Saints stars that the front office could set their financial focus on next, once the presumed deal for Thomas gets completed.
Alvin Kamara, RB
Kamara took the league by storm as a rookie 3rd round draft pick in 2017, winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of Year and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl with 1,901 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns (both second in the league). Kamara proved that he could take on the role of a featured runner in 2018, leading the Saints with 883 yards on the ground while adding another 709 receiving yards on 81 receptions and scoring 18 touchdowns, a franchise record. Kamara, who will be 24 years old next month, is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the league and a player that opposing defenses must set their gameplan around. His current rookie contract is up at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
Running back is considered one of the more easily replaceable positions by some throughout the NFL. Few have the gamebreaking versatility that Kamara possesses however. He is one of the primary weapons in coach Sean Payton's prolific offense, and his skillset has drawn comparisons from some to former Rams Hall of Fame back Marshall Faulk. If Kamara can again show that he can handle the duties of a feature back, particularly after the free agent defection of Mark Ingram, then AK41 could be in line to become one of the NFL's highest paid running backs.
Marshon Lattimore, CB
Lattimore was taken with the 11th overall pick of the 2017 draft. An instant starter in his first season, Lattimore would intercept 5 passes and lock down some of the league's best receivers on his way to a Pro Bowl berth and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He struggled a bit in the first portion of 2018, but played extremely well down the stretch, again showing why he belonged in the conversation with the NFL's best cornerbacks. Lattimore could become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2020 season, but the team does have the control to pick up a fifth year option that would extend through the 2021 season.
Lattimore's shaky start to 2018 concerned some, but once the Saints acquired Eli Apple at midseason, Lattimore quickly again played near an elite level. Shutdown corners are a luxury that many teams do not have. Lattimore has shown the capability to not only control some of the league's best receivers, but he also has outstanding ball skills and defends the run well. He will be under the spotlight to do the same in 2019, perhaps setting himself up for a top level contract.
Ryan Ramczyk, OT
Ramczyk, who was the 32nd overall pick in the 2017 draft, was an instant starter his rookie year, and has missed just one start in two years. After opening the 2017 season at left tackle to replace the injured Terron Armstead, Ramczyk moved to right tackle after starter Zach Strief was hurt, making the NFL All-Rookie team and playing at a Pro Bowl level since. Ramczyk is considered one of the top young offensive linemen in the league, and is a devastating run blocker as well as terrific pass protector. He could become a free agent after the 2020 season, but the club does have a fifth year option.
The 25-yr. old Ramczyk is one of the key players for a Saints offensive line considered among the league's best. Offensive tackles, in particular, are at a premium because of their duties to protect against the NFL's edge rushers. Ramczyk not only has the skillset to handle some of the finest pass rushers, but is also key to a dynamic New Orleans rushing attack that gets much of it's yardage over the right side.
Sheldon Rankins, DT
Rankins showed the world why the Saints made him the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft last season. He showed promise during his rookie year, although abbreviated by an early injury (broken leg), then showed much improvement in 2017 before having an All-Pro worthy season last year. Unfortunately, after an 8 sack and 12 tackles for loss 2018 campaign, Rankins suffered an Achilles injury in the playoffs that will likely keep him off the field until midseason. New Orleans should have a solid rotation inside with David Onyemata, Taylor Stallworth, and Malcom Brown, but Rankins' return to effectiveness is vital to the defensive success. His current contract is due to expire after the 2020 season. The 25-yr. old Rankins has blossomed into one of the NFL's most disruptive interior defenders, and could be paid among the top defensive players in the league upon his full recovery.
Larry Warford, OG
Warford was an underrated free agent addition in 2017 from Detroit. He is a stout pass blocker from his right guard spot, and teams with Ramczyk to give the Saints a devastating run blocking duo. Warford has been a Pro Bowl replacement in each of his two years with the Saints, and has been vital in protecting the 6'0 Drew Brees and his line of sight to survey the field.
Warford, who just turned 28, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020 season. Although most teams pay top dollar for offensive tackles, most quarterbacks will admit that they feel most uncomfortable when they are pressured up the middle. Sean Payton has always stressed the importance of solid guard and center play, which could make Warford a team priority before his contract expires.
Demario Davis, LB
One of the best free agent signings of 2018 was the Saints inking of former Jets linebacker Demario Davis. The 30-yr. old Davis has missed just one game since 2013, and has always been one of the league's top tacklers. He would mean so much more to the Saints defense in 2018 though, despite a Pro Bowl snub. Davis added a ton of speed, aggressiveness, and versatility to the Saints defense, and transformed a moribund linebacking corps into one of the league's most improved units.
Although he will be 32 when his contract expires after the 2020 season, Davis might be considered a priority signing if still playing at a level that brought to mind some of the elite linebacker play from Saints' past.
Alex Anzalone, LB
Speaking of great linebacker play, many expected exactly that out of Anzalone when the Saints selected him in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft. Although an opening day starter as a rookie and showing improvement over the first month of 2017, Anzalone was shelved for the year after just four games with a shoulder injury. That injury specter was one that haunted Anzalone in college, perhaps even preventing him from being a late-1st or early 2nd round pick. He rebounded in a big way in 2018, playing every game and teaming with Davis, A.J. Klein, and Craig Robertson to give New Orleans their best linebacking play in years. Anzalone combines good size with outstanding athleticism and versatility to give the Saints a bonafide every down playmaker at linebacker along with Davis.
The sky seems the limit for the rapidly improving Anzalone, who turns 25 in September. His contract will expire at the conclusion of the 2020 season, and if he can stay healthy and maintain his upward trend, could put him in line for franchise defender type of money.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB
One of the most hotly debated topics among Saints fans is what the franchise will do at quarterback once Drew Brees decides to step away. New Orleans provided one potential answer to that question when they re-signed Bridgewater to a 1-yr. extension this offseason after trading to get him from the Jets last year. A 1st round draft pick by the Vikings in 2014 (32nd overall), Bridgewater is fully recovered from a career threatening knee injury suffered in 2016 that kept him sidelined most of two years. He has a 17-12 record as a starter, and has completed 64.7% of his passes with 28 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. Bridgewater has good mobility and arm strength, and Saints coaches have raved about his ability to run the offense.
The major question that will remain until it happens of course is this: When will Brees retire? If number 9 elects to play beyond the 2019 season, then Bridgewater could test free agent waters for a starting job elsewhere. If Brees, sadly, does step away after this season, then the Saints will then be faced with an immediate decision on Bridgewater. He will turn 27 during the season, still plenty of years left for an NFL quarterback. Bridgewater will make over 7 million dollars for backup duty in 2019, a number that figures to escalate if New Orleans expects him to be their next starting quarterback.
One of many decisions that face the Saints front office in the near future.
Who should get the next big contract for the New Orleans Saints?
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