The New Orleans Saints are in a battle with the 2021 NFL salary cap. As Saints fans are all too well aware, the cap is usually just a guideline and general manager Mickey Loomis and VP of Football Administration Khai Harley always figure it out. This season is likely no different, but extra challenges have been presented in this particular scenario. The largest of which is the likely decrease in cap space from the 2020 level due to the global pandemic spurred on by COVID-19.
Regardless, this New Orleans squad will likely look very different from past seasons, with quarterback Drew Brees retiring to some friendly faces potentially on their way out. As such, the Saints will need to bring in a few free agents to help round out the roster. So, which players would be a good fit for New Orleans while also coming at a bargain deal?
Mark Ingram, Running Back
The former-Saints running back was recently cut by the Baltimore Ravens, in fact, they were in the midst of a playoff run when the cut occurred. Now a free agent, Ingram is free to sign with any team that has mutual interest. The Saints could be an option as a reunion for the two sides could be of mutual benefit.
Latavius Murray has been a cut candidate for New Orleans this season as his release would free up nearly $3.5 million in cap space. Some of that savings in turn could be used to sign Ingram to a team-friendly deal, while allowing him to return to the team in which his career took off and he found success. Ingram made a salary of $4 million last season, so it bodes well for New Orleans in terms of offering a team-friendly contract to the recently cut running back who had a subpar 2020 season.
Additionally, as good as Murray has been in his current role since Ingram’s departure, there is no denying the connection between Ingram and superstar running back Alvin Kamara. Bringing Ingram back could help to fill a leadership void that will inevitably be left in the wake of Brees’ departure. Plus, he is a fan favorite.
Willie Snead, Wide Receiver
Snead is another 2020 Ravens member and another former-Saint. This isn’t a purposeful trend, but both Ingram and Snead just happen to be in the right place at the right time and have the skills the Saints may require heading into the 2021 season. New Orleans could have a similar situation on their hands at the wide receiver position as they do at the running back position. As good as Emmanuel Sanders has been for the team in 2020, especially in Michael Thomas’ absence, his contract could be an issue. Sanders will have a $10.5 million cap hit in 2021, and unless he is willing to take a pay-cut or restructure, he could be a cap casualty.
Willie Snead ends his presser with a class: "I really appreciate this organization for the chance they gave me after New Orleans. It’s been an incredible 3 years. I don’t know what my future is going to look like after tonight. I’m thankful for everything Baltimore has given me"— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) January 17, 2021
If that happens then New Orleans will have to look for help at the position. Snead would be a cheaper option that is familiar with the team, city and expectations of the organization. Additionally, his talent compared to his potential salary would be a good deal for the Saints. In 2020, Snead had a cap hit of $5.4 million in Baltimore, and New Orleans could offer a deal with a larger signing bonus and laden with incentives. While Sanders has been incredible for the Saints, a wide receiving corps of Thomas, Snead, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway in 2021 sounds pretty good.
Takkarist McKinley, Defensive End
Plenty of question marks surround the Saints defensive line. Trey Hendrickson looks to be on his way to another team unless New Orleans can scrounge up the cash to re-sign him. Additionally, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is also a free agent, which means the line could look a lot different come the 2021 season. If Hendrickson doesn’t return then McKinley could be a viable option at the position.
He played a significant role in the Atlanta Falcons defense from 2017 to 2019 and was then subsequently cut and then signed by the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020. Takk represents a very talented pass rushing defensive end and his 2017 and 2018 campaigns were promising when he recorded 13 combined sacks and 2 forced fumbles. While Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has expressed interest in re-signing Takk and Sports Illustrated predicts Takk will re-sign with Las Vegas, New Orleans has a shot.
The Saints would have to let Hendrickson walk, and after that they could then offer Takk a competing offer. Many Saints fans will recall his tenacity on the field with the Falcons and he would be a good signing as he could act as an anchor on the defensive line. He is capable of ensuring the Saints don’t miss a beat.
Larry Warford, Guard
Let’s continue with the Saints having a reunion with former players. Warford was cut ahead of the 2020 season, and by all accounts his work ethic, rather than his talent, was the issue with the organization. Now that Nick Easton is questionable to return to the team after his cap hit and concussion/injury history has proved to be an obstacle the team may not be willing to hurdle. With significant injury concerns along the offensive line additional depth could be needed.
Warford is familiar with the organization and after taking a year off from football, the guard could come back rejuvenated and ready to meet the standards and expectations from the Saints staff and front office. Warford is talented, and if he puts in the effort could help mitigate the potential loss of Easton. Warford would also likely come on a team-friendly deal as the three time Pro-Bowler opted out of the 2020 season and it remains to be seen what kind of market he will have. His previous contract with the Saints was about $3 million with a $4 million signing bonus. Last offseason he was seeking around a $7 million salary before opting out. If New Orleans cuts Easton they would save almost $6 million this upcoming season and that could be used to lure Warford back to the team.
Three-time Pro-Bowl guard, Larry Warford, who has received multiple offers, is opting out of the 2020 season, per source. Warford is looking to start a family and will continue to train and revisit playing in 2021.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 28, 2020
Additionally, Andrus Peat has not lived up to his contract and his performance has many worried about the future of the position and the resources the team put into it. Warford would at a minimum compete and push Peat to play to his contract, if not assume the starting role altogether. As long as Warford can meet the work ethic expectations, this signing and reunion seems like a no-brainer for New Orleans and the player.
T.Y. Hilton, Wide Receiver
Naturally, the Indianapolis Colts would like to have their superstar return, but Hilton has yet to sign a deal with the Colts. This means the four-time Pro-Bowler will likely test the market this offseason. Unfortunately for Hilton, his 2020 was subpar and he is entering free agency when teams have less money to go around and players are getting a smaller cut of the pie.
For this reason, players like Hilton might try and sign with a team in which they can find success in 2021 and reset their market value for 2022 when the salary cap will hopefully rise back to pre-pandemic levels. At 32-years-old, Hilton will have a market, and could make somewhere in the $10 million range. If he doesn’t want to take a one-year deal due to age, then New Orleans could offer him a longer term contract that’s backloaded and contains voidable years.
Hilton would fit nicely into the Saints system and would help the team competitive, especially if Sanders leaves or the unthinkable happens with Thomas and a surprising trade occurs (unlikely, but you never know). Hilton could also provide a veteran presence in the locker room and help bring a winning mentality to the organization.
Who do you want the Saints to sign in free agency? 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, follow us on Instagram at @SaintsCSC and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @KadeKistner.