Kwon Alexander was a mid-season addition to the New Orleans Saints that helped take their defense to the next level. The Saints sent off a 5th-round pick and LB Kiko Alonso to San Fransico for Kwon Alexander to pair next to Demario Davis. The Alexander-Davis duo anchored one of the best defenses in the NFL immediately following the trade. Unfortunately, Alexander tore his Achilles tendon versus the Minnesota Vikings and missed the remainder of the season.
Once the offseason hit, the Saints were hurting for cap space, and Alexander was the most obvious potential cap casualty with his giant cap hit for the 2021 season. The Saints released Kwon Alexander on March 10th which saved them $13 million against the cap without causing any additional dead money. Kwon is now a free agent and rumored to be ready to go for the start of training camp.
With the large hole at linebacker with the departure of Kwon Alexander (and Alex Anzalone), here are potential options to fill that hole on the Saints defense:
K.J. Wright - Free Agent
Former Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright spent 10 years in Seattle anchoring one of the best defenses in NFL history. In 2020, Wright had 86 tackles, 2 sacks, 10 passes defended, and one interception in one of the best years of his career. Pro Football Focus graded Wright 75.3 overall for 2020 (read: a good year).
K.J. Wright would be a great fit playing aside DeMario Davis, as both veteran linebackers have had a ton of success in their careers. Wright is only 32-years-old and has made it clear he wants to play for a contender. The Saints may not be a Super Bowl contender this year, but they are still a playoff team that could take a step forward with Wright on the team.
Nick Bolton, Jabril Cox, Zaven Collins - Draft
The Saints could look to replace Alexander in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. There are many options at linebacker the Saints could go, and one such name is Missouri’s Nick Bolton. Bolton was one of the biggest defensive draft risers in this year's class, and could flourish playing the Mike linebacker position at the next level. Bolton is a little undersized at only 6’0” but he makes up for it with his speed, strength, and instinct to get his helmet on the ball.
Tulsa’s Zaven Collins is one of the hottest draft names since his pro day after he ran a 4.67 40-yard dash while being 6’4 7/8” and weighing 259 pounds. This makes Collins a perfect fit to be a physical NFL linebacker. Collins strengths are his size, strength, and run-stopping ability. He won't wow you in the pass coverage game, but will always give you 100% every snap. Of note, Saints scout Jeff Ireland was spotted spending time at the Tulsa Pro Day watching Zaven Collins.
Another name of interest to the Saints could be versatile LSU linebacker Jabril Cox. Cox is a three-down linebacker that perfectly fits the mold of what an NFL linebacker should be today. Cox has above average size and strength with freakish athleticism, and some have compared him to safety/linebacker Isaiah Simmions. Cox would pair perfectly as either a Will or Sam linebacker standing up next to DeMario Davis, playing run defense while also able to drop back in coverage. One final name to keep close tabs on his Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses.
Saints Jeff Ireland talking with Tulsa LB Zaven Collins after his pro day pic.twitter.com/xNKKmkfJx7— Andrew Groover (@APGroover) April 2, 2021
Zack Baun, In-house
The Saints traded up in the third round to select Baun 74th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Baun is loaded with potential that the Saints could still unlock and make him a starter. As the year went on, Baun saw his snaps increase and was able to start three games as the Saints third linebacker on the field against run-heavy teams. Baun only tailed 12 total tackles last season, but his numbers fail to show the improvement he showed over the course of the season. With a full offseason with OTAs, the Saints could look to replace Alexander with 2nd-year man Zack Baun.
Honorable Mention: Kwon Alexander, Free Agent
Why not replace Kwon Alexnader with ... Kwon Alexander? Alexander is currently still a free agent and interested teams have yet to reach a deal. It is being reported that Kwon will be ready to go for training camp after tearing his Achilles in December. There are a lot of question marks about his health, but bringing Kwon back on a reasonable one-year deal could be a very likely option.
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