In the 2021 offseason, the Saints were essentially left with the decision of whether they should keep DE Trey Hendrickson or S Marcus Williams. As we know, the Saints ultimately applied the franchise tag to Marcus Williams, letting Hendrickson join the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency.
Fast forward one year later and Marcus Williams too has left in free agency, signing a five-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens worth up to $70 million dollars. Former Super Bowl Champion Malcolm Jenkins announced his retirement later in free agency, leaving the Saints without both of their starting safeties from the 2021 season.
Now the Saints have replaced that duo with Marcus Maye and former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu. Maye signed a three-year, contract to come to the Saints worth up to $28 million dollars after his stint with the New York Jets, and Mathieu on a three-year, $33 million dollar deal. However, Bleacher Report recently listed Maye as one of six NFL free agents who is most likely to fail to live up to expectations:
It’s a rather lofty price to pay for a 29-year-old safety who just suffered his second major injury during his first five seasons. Maye landed on the injured reserve with a torn Achilles in Week 9, ending his 2021 campaign after he participated in just six games.
The former New York Jets defensive back also missed a majority of the 2018 season with a variety of ailments, including a serious shoulder injury that shut him down for the half of that campaign.
Not only is Maye coming off that Achilles injury, but he also cost money that New Orleans could have allocated towards keeping its own star safety in Marcus Williams.
Williams ended up signing a five-year, $70 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens. While he’s making more annually than Maye, Williams has been a more talented and consistent player during his five years in the league.
Maye only earned a paltry 55.9 PFF grade for his work across 362 defensive snaps last season. Williams recorded a much more respectable 80.1 PFF grade while playing a career-high 1036 snaps and missing just one game.
The cap savings created by the decision to sign Maye over retaining Williams did not get used in the manner the Saints were hoping for either.
The Saints reportedly attempted to lure Deshaun Watson to the Big Easy and made financial decisions with the goal of fitting his contract under the cap before the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback spurned the club in favor of the Cleveland Browns.
While New Orleans was able to salvage their secondary by signing Tyrann Mathieu, the organization will regret letting a homegrown star go in exchange for a cheaper, injury-prone replacement.
While Bleacher Report points to Maye’s 55.9 PFF grade last season, it’s important to keep in mind the context that Maye played in only six games last season before suffering a season-ending injury. In Maye’s last healthy season, 2020, he had a 82.9 PFF grade, higher than Marcus Williams’s PFF grade the past two seasons.
The Saints are definitely going to feel the loss of Marcus Williams in the secondary, but Williams was primarily a free safety who rarely played with the physicality necessary to shift to the strong side. Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu both have the ability to move around the defense and play either safety position, and we have already covered how Maye’s physical play helps him both in pass coverage and rushing into the backfield.
It would be unfair to say Marcus Maye needs to have a better year than Marcus Williams in order for Maye to provide value based on his contract. For one, Maye is being paid almost half of what Williams is receiving from Baltimore, but Maye will not be asked to replace Williams in the Saints secondary. Instead, the hope will be for a combination of Marcus Maye, Tyrann Mathieu, CJ Gardner-Johnson, and PJ Williams to play as good or better than the duo of Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins last season.
I like their chances.