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Saints offseason 2022: Upcoming Saints free agents and their priority level

The Saints have a lot of work to do to get under the cap, and they have some key pieces who are primed to test the market

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints’ season came to an end on Sunday, which only means that it’s time to look ahead to the New Orleans Saints’ offseason. Several key players are primed to become free agents, with free safety Marcus Williams coming off of the franchise tag. That means that re-franchising him would be 120 percent of the $10.6 million tag he played under in 2021.

That might be preferable to the $16.7 million tag projected for offensive linemen — per CBS Sports — which would be due to Terron Armstead, another major pending free agent. Armstead plays opposite of Ryan Ramczyk, who was extended in-season, and he has been one of the Saints’ best linemen when healthy. The star was an anchor of the Saints’ offensive line last year, even among some struggling pieces inside.

Here’s a look at Williams, Armstead, and the other free agents slated to hit the market in 2022.

Must-sign players

These are the players the Saints cannot, under any circumstances, let walk. They’re key parts of the team and letting them go would create major needs on the roster while also shaking up the locker room.

Marcus Williams - S

Under the franchise tag in 2021, Williams was as good as ever. He got a coverage grade of just over 84, per Pro Football Focus, and while his open-field tackling was shoddy at times he continues to be one of the NFL’s best roaming safeties in coverage. Losing Williams would leave a major hole on the back end of the defense, and the risk of bringing someone different in and changing the defensive makeup is even greater with how good the defense has been.

Terron Armstead - OT

Armstead is a consistent presence for the Saints at offensive tackle. A Saint since 2013 and a starter since 2014, Armstead is a stalwart of the Saints offense. He allowed 12 pressures for the Saints in 2021, and he played just under half of their games. His priority level doesn’t change because of injury, particularly in a year that saw just about every Saint miss time with injury or illness.

P.J. Williams - CB/S

It is, frankly, a little surprising to have Williams this high, but he was very good in 2021 at a time where the Saints needed him to play rotationally. The combined play of Williams and Paulson Adebo made the signing of Bradley Roby relatively redundant, and Williams played safety as well as cornerback last season. His role on the defense might not change, but Williams is a longtime Saint and he’s more than earned whatever his next contract might be.

Important, but with variables

These are players it would behoove the Saints to keep, but it might be made irrelevant by other offseason circumstances

Jameis Winston - QB

There’s no other way to put it. The way Winston’s 2021 ended was hard to watch. He tore his ACL on a horse-collar tackle when the Saints were 4-2 playing their most important game of the season. Winston had thrown for 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions, and while he was hardly putting up video game numbers, he looked steady. With that, however, comes quarterback-needy teams willing to throw way too much money at a player. If the Saints are outbid for Winston, it will hurt to watch him go, but Sean Payton has proven time and time again pressure molds diamonds at quarterback for him.

Trevor Siemian - QB

Siemian got dealt a really bad hand for the Saints. He went 0-4 as a starter after winning the aforementioned emotional game against the Buccaneers. He seemed to pick up steam as games went on, but ultimately the holes were too deep to dig out of. While he’s not a great quarterback, he’s a serviceable backup. There’s something to be said for a guy who can step into two divisional games and play steady enough to get a win. Siemian did that against the Buccaneers and the Falcons. He deserves credit for as much, just maybe not as the QB of the future.

Wouldn’t hurt to see them back

These are players who, if the price is right, the Saints could bring back and not get many people shaking their heads.

Tre’Quan Smith - WR

What? Tre’Quan Smith? The guy who got talked about as a liability during the darkest days of the season? Call it recency bias, but Smith can be a good contributor for the Saints’ receiving corps under the right circumstances. Ask him to play with a decent group, and Smith will make plays for you in-game. He closed out the season with five catches for 76 yards against the Falcons, and it’s because he wasn’t asked to do too much. He shouldn’t be seeing horribly lucrative offers this offseason, so the Saints should be able to bring him back on a friendly deal.

Kwon Alexander - LB

Let’s call it what it is. Alexander isn’t good in coverage. But he’s always around the ball and he’s a part of a Saints defense that just gels. He had a fumble forced and fumble recovered against the Falcons, and Demario Davis and he make up a fearsome linebacking group rounded out by Pete Werner. Once again, the price has to be right, but Alexander has built up a lot of good will with the Saints franchise.

Other Saints free agents

These are players who could well return, and while many of them are rotational, it’s entirely possible they walk.

Dwayne Washington, RB

Ty Montgomery, WR

Jeff Heath, S

Jalyn Holmes, DT

Key RFAs

Restricted free agents the Saints are unlikely to let walk.

LOCK: Deonte Harty, WR

POSSIBLE: Shy Tuttle, DT

Carl Granderson, DE

Juwan Johnson, WR

OTHER: Garrett Griffin, TE

Ethan Greenridge, T

Jalen Dalton, DE

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