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New Orleans Saints’ in-house free agents should be first priority this offseason

The Saints’ focus this offseason should be on adding to what they had in 2021, no replacing it.

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New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints have had a similar approach to the offseason each of the last few years. First priority is retaining their in-house free agents, filling any holes left over in free agency, which then allows the team to select best player available in the NFL Draft.

Maintaining in-house free agents becomes all the more important this offseason considering the caliber of players at top positions.

Safety Marcus Williams

In my opinion, Williams is the top priority this offseason outside of wide receiver, which the Saints won’t be able to address as early Williams’s contract situation. The former Utah Ute was franchise tagged last year, but the Saints and his team were not able to reach a long-term deal before the tag deadline.

With Williams having a successful 2021, the Saints likely won’t be able to carry over the same offer they prepared last offseason, but they at least have a foundation and starting place.

Williams added two more interceptions to his resume, totaling now at 15 for his career. He also had five passes broken up and forced a 54.2 passer rating when targeted, second lowest allowed of his career so far. He also did so without committing a single penalty all season.

There will always be a couple of plays that naysayers will point out about Williams, but down-in and down-out he’s been one of the best safeties in the NFL. He led the position in 2021 among safeties playing more than 300 coverage snaps with a 38% forced incompletion rate and 39.3 snaps per target. Showing that he forces quarterbacks to look the other way when he’s in coverage.

Williams is a key piece in Dennis Allen’s defense and would garner too much attention on the open market. So, whether it’s another franchise tag (would would require the Saints committing over $12M in 2022) or a long-term deal, New Orleans should look to do whatever it takes to keep him in the Big Easy.

QB Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston is a trickier scenario than Williams. Winston is recovering (seemingly well) from an ACL tear he suffered in Week 8 against his former team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While he works his way back from that injury, the Saints are likely to continue to explore other options at the position.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson could end up on the move, but for now only speculation shrouds that situation. However, if he did end up wanting to explore the trade market to find a better situation for him, as the one in Seattle has not improved, the Saints will of course be a part of that conversation. Every team in need of a quarterback will be.

New Orleans is also likely to explore other available option as they become apparent. The San Francisco 49ers look to be ready to move forward with young quarterback Trey Lance and may look to trade a less appealing option in Jimmy Garoppolo. The Las Vegas Raiders have moved on from their GM, are interviewing new coaching candidates, and could also potentially look to move Derek Carr.

The Saints will leave no stone unturned when it comes to the most important position on the field. But regardless of the other attractive options that may be available on the market, focusing on Jameis Winston may be the easiest and least costly option depending on how his recovery continues to progress and when he’ll be available to participate throughout the offseason.

Winston defied the odds and expectations after winning the starting role in New Orleans after an offseason battle with Taysom Hill. Many expected that he would be a liability with the ball and while some on-field decisions weren’t the best, every quarterback has throws they wish they could have back. Winston didn’t lead a particularly productive offense in terms of yards with limited receiving options, but he did outplay expectations throwing 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

I had previous expectations that the Saints would have competition this offseason for Winston, particularly the Pittsburgh Steelers with the expected retirement of Ben Roethlisberger on the horizon. But after recent reports, it sounds like they may content to stick with what in the facility and draft a young QB to groom for the next year. If that’s the case, that is a big competitor for Winston off the board this offseason, allowing the Saints to really explore the options available to them without having to rush into any decisions.

LT Terron Armstead

Speaking of important positions on the field, some would say that the quarterback’s blindside protector might be more important than the QB spot itself. Terron Armstead’s contract is set to void at the end of the 2021 lead year in March. That gives the Saints time to consider the situation around the three time Pro Bowler.

Armstead battled injuries to an extent we haven’t seen since the 2016 season. He appeared in only eight contests throughout the NFL’s first 18-game season. He’s been consistently one of the best tackles in the NFL when healthy, but are his injury concerns enough to make him less desirable this offseason?

It depends on what the Saints need to do around their offseason salary cap situation. It’s more than achievable for New Orleans to get rid of their more than $60M overage, though others will blow it up as if it’s another impossible task. However, the Saints could add more spending to their wallets this offseason by extending Armstead. If he leaves New Orleans, the Saints will carry around $13M dead cap hit in his name.

The Saints could extend Armstead with a backloaded contract that includes void years to held spread that cap hit out as opposed to take it all on in 2022 while trying to reload the roster.

In my opinion, that’s the better option than cutting him loose now, especially when also trying to figure things out at the signal caller spot. Without a doubt, Armstead is one of the most valuable assets on the team when healthy. Draft and prepare for the future behind him, not in lieu of him.

The Saints will have more very important in-house free agents like linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive back P.J. Williams, and wide receivers Tre’Quan Smith and Deonte Harty (who will be a restricted free agent). Lots of talented names to make decisions around this offseason while also looking to add new talent. This team proved that even in the worst of circumstances, they could be a playoff competitive team.

This offseason for the Saints should be focused on building upon that, not plugging holes to keep the ship from sinking.

What would you like to see the Saints do with Williams, Winston, and Armstead? Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints and checkout the Locked On Saints YouTube channel.