With his release from the Houston Texans on Friday, defensive lineman J.J. Watt became quite possibly the biggest defensive name to hit free agency since Charles Woodson. A five-time Pro Bowler, five-time All Pro and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Watt played all 16 games last year for the second time in five years.
After Watt’s release, every team in the NFL started salivating. The New Orleans Saints, however, should do their due diligence and inquire about Watt, but they shouldn’t pursue signing the 31-year-old end with too much vigor.
The first (and most obvious) reason for the Saints to avoid Watt is the money. It’s hard to estimate what Watt’s contract will look like, but it will very likely be determined by the yet-to-be-finalized salary cap. As PFT’s Mike Florio says, that number will likely fall around $180 million. As of now, the Saints are $60 to $70 million in the hole. They will rectify that, but they have other needs to address before going after defensive players in the twilight of their career.
The first thing to do is go after Marcus Williams, a lynchpin in the Saints defense. Williams as a free safety brings more than a rotational end would, and if the Saints want to keep things in-house, they may as well try to shell out the extra cash for Trey Hendrickson, a DE they developed on an upswing in his career, vs. an outside entity trending down.
On top of that, the quarterback situation is not yet set. Jameis Winston is a free agent, while Taysom Hill is under contract for next year. That means that as of Feb. 15, the Saints don’t have a quarterback on their roster (I said what I said). That absolutely needs to be shored up.
The argument for Watt wanting less money to contend holds merit. He’s made over $100 million to contend. But sentimentality also factors into that. Watt could take less to play for the Saints, but he doesn’t have the connection he’d have to the Packers (who are coming off of an NFC Championship Game appearance with the reigning MVP) or the Steelers (a flawed but talented roster that happens to include his brother T.J.).
On top of all of this, the Saints have had success developing defensive linemen in-house, so it isn’t a position they should break the bank for. With Ryan Nielsen staying in New Orleans after a job with LSU falling through and the Packers going with Joe Berry at defensive coordinator, they have the ability to home-grow talent from the draft. That’s a luxury they should capitalize on, and use free agency money to shore up positions elsewhere.
Watt would be a good addition, and none of this is to say he’s a bad player now. But the Saints must approach this offseason with caution. Watt is coming off of a five-sack season, although his pressure rate was still fairly solid. However, for the money he’ll command, the Saints will likely want to shy away and place their priorities elsewhere. It will be a trying offseason. There’s no reason to make it harder than it has to be.
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