As the NFL trade deadline nears, the New Orleans Saints shocked the fanbase with a move on defense that no one really expected. With the struggles New Orleans has had on the defensive side of the ball, many expected a look in the secondary or pass rush. Instead, the Saints chose to bring in more help to their linebacker room.
49ers traded LB Kwon Alexander traded to the Saints, source tells ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 2, 2020
In the trade, the Saints sent off a conditional 5th round pick and LB Kiko Alonso who started the year on the PUP list recovering from an ACL injury. Alonso had not yet seen the field this season. Alexander is dealing with an injury of his own, a high-ankle sprain which has kept him out since Week 5. Now that he’s healthy, he’s been dealt to the Saints. No need to worry about his limited participation status last week as the 26-year-old likely wouldn’t be eligible to play against Tampa Bay (another of his former teams) due to Covid protocols. This means he should have about two weeks to recover further before being asked to play.
Reportedly, the 49ers have been interested in dealing Alexander since after the Super Bowl but were not able to do so due to his health status. Another big factor to this trade was the former LSU Tiger’s contract. He signed a 4-year $54M deal with the 49ers in 2019 and it was restructured ahead of this season. Now, the 49ers will remain on the hook for a large portion while the Saints take on very little. He has large base salaries over the next two years of $12.55M and $12.65M. But both amounts are not guaranteed.
A very interesting trade for the #Saints. Should only owe Alexander $3M for the year and they will save about $900K by getting rid of Alonso, so just $2M. Alexander has only $2M in injury protection left so they can walk away next year with no cap issues— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) November 2, 2020
The next factor is where does the newly acquired linebacker fit in? Alexander has played in five games this season adding on 30 total tackles, one for a loss, and a sack. According to Pro Football Focus, the majority of those snaps were played at the MIKE position or Demario Davis’ spot. As Larry Holder observed seeing him take snaps from Davis once he’s available is a longshot. However, Alexander has a wealth of experience at the WILL spot, where Alex Anzalone usually plays. Anzalone’s play in coverage has been inconsistent so far this season and the Saints may be looking at a boost there.
Why would the Saints add a linebacker as opposed to a safety or defensive back help? Well the fact of the matter is that the Saints are among the league lowest when it comes to 20+ yard passing plays allowed with 20, the league’s fifth-lowest total. While they are, however, tied for the league’s most in 40+ yard passing plays allowed with seven, that is still only seven of the 240 total passes attempted against them. That’s not to say that the secondary doesn’t need help, they clearly do, but the Saints may have chosen to go with linebacker because the have allowed passer ratings of 124 (left), 107 (middle), and 105 (right) and a total of 15 passing touchdowns within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. That includes 289 yards and two touchdowns over the middle with a 70% completion percentage.
The fact of the matter is that protecting the middle of the field in the passing game is still of great value and emphasis to NFL teams. The Saints are no exception when they’re getting pieced up in that area above the league’s already bad defensive average.
This actually makes a lot of sense. Remember, New Orleans had this same LB group when they tried to add in Nigel Bradham to help with coverage ahead of the season. That didn't work out and now they've added another coverage LB with perhaps a bit more versatility as well.— Ross Jackson (@RossJacksonNOLA) November 2, 2020
Secondary help is still worth holding out hopes for whether via trade or a free agency signing after exploring the trade market. (ETIII anyone?) But adding a piece like Kwon Alexander is a good boost for the Saints’ defense. Yes, he has some injury concerns, as did Kiko Alonso. But when healthy, Alexander helps in an area where Alonso wasn’t so useful. Per PFF, the Oxford, AL native put up three seasons of coverage grades above 68.0, as recently as last season and four season pass rushing grades above 71.0 including this year. Anzalone has never reached that coverage mark in his career so far, and Alonso hasn’t since his rookie year in 2013. The pass rush pace, Anzalone has only achieved once.
Getting a boost in either of those elements makes a day three pick and a player that may have at best hardly seen the field for New Orleans a small price to pay.
What do you think of the trade for Kwon Alexander? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints.