The 2021 NFL Draft is only a handful of days away and there are still plenty of quality free agents available. The most likely move for the New Orleans Saints would to be sit back and wait until after the draft to sign these free agents. Why? The day after the NFL Draft the compensatory pick formula is stopped, so any free agents signed would not cost the Saints any value in the next years' comp picks.
It's a strategy the Saints used last year to try and land more compensatory picks this year, and it paid off after New Orleans ended with three extra picks in this year’s draft. But there is a situation where if they think they need to sign their guy now to make sure another team beats them to it, they should pull the trigger. Here are some guys the Saints could go after before draft day April 29th.
Steven Nelson, CB
Steven Nelson was a lockdown corner for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 6 years after being a 3rd round selection. Nelson recently asked for his release on Twitter after he said the Steelers were “holding [him] hostage”. Nelson is now a 28-year old free agent corner with some of his best football still potentially ahead of him. In 2020, Nelson appeared in 15 games and registered 48 tackles and 2 interceptions. He had his best season in 2018 with the Kansas City Cheifs where he had 4 interceptions. Nelson, now a free agent, could be a great CB2 next to Marshon Lattimore in 2021. If the Saints don't want to reach for a CB in the draft and find one before, Steven Nelson could be one of the best options available.
Sheldon Richardson, DT
The Saints have lost two key defensive tackles this offseason, Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown. They still have talent who can fill in for those losses in David Onyemata and other young developing players, but depth is thin. The Cleveland Browns recently released starting DT Sheldon Richardson after signing Jadeveon Clowney.
Richardson had a large cap hit with the team in 2021, leading up to why the Browns likely released him. There is still hope in the Browns building that they can bring Richardson back at a cheaper cost. The Saints, though, could jump the gun and try to sign him away from the Browns. Richardson would add another starting level talent on the defensive line and relieve pressure off UDFAs like Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach to start this year. Defensive tackle is a sneaky need for the Saints going into the draft.
De’Vondre Campbell, LB
De’Vondre Campbell may seem like a familiar name to some, and it's because he played for the rival Atlanta Falcons for four years. Campbell spent last year on a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals where he had 99 tackles while starting all 16 games. Campbell could be insurance for the Saints after losing Kwon Alexander and Alex Anzalone this offseason. Campbell could come in and start for the Saints immediately, even if they draft a LB this year. With Zack Baun not looking ready to start full-time next to DeMario Davis, Campbell could be a great one-year rental.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE
Ryan Kerrigan was lost in the mix this year in Washington with defensive rookie of the year Chase Young and rising star Montez Sweat. Last year and the year before, he finished with 5.5 sacks while only starting 1 game last year. Kerrigan is about to turn 33-years-old and has accepted his role as a situational pass rusher, which would be perfect for the Saints after losing Trey Hendrickson early in the offseason. Kerrigan could be a cheap one-year rental for a team that could use another pass rusher. The Saints have Tanoh Kpassagnon and Carl Granderson coming off the bench for pass-rush help currently, but it’s never a bad thing to have too many names on the edge.
Casey Hayward, CB
Maybe the best available free agent fit for the Saints right now is free agent cornerback Casey Hayward. The 31-year-old may wait until after the draft to find the perfect team as teams hope to land their future young stars in the draft. If the Saints don't think their top cornerback option in the draft will fall to them with the 28th pick, they could sign Hayward soon, who still has some great football left. Cornerback is the largest hole on the team for the Saints, and Hayward provides an immediate impact in the pass game.
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