A lot of eyes are on the the upcoming New Orleans Saints offseason given how poorly their 2022 campaign has gone. The Saints have clawed their way up to a 6-9 record and are facing elimination from playoff contention with a loss to the best team in the conference this week. So, yeah, a lot of attention is already going towards their fortunes next year.
And the Saints should be active again in free agency, even if they’re looking for cost-effective options amid a challenging salary cap situation. Few teams are in the red by as wide a margin as New Orleans — the rosiest salary cap projections have them starting out over the cap by more than $50 million. The Saints can whittle away at that with their usual restructures and salary cap manipulation, but they’ll probably have to part ways with some veteran players in the process, too.
Still, they’ve always been active spenders in free agency with general manager Mickey Loomis running the front office, and we shouldn’t expect that to change any time soon. Here are some areas of concern and 20 pending free agents to watch out for in the spring:
This is easily the most pressing priority. Neither Andy Dalton nor Jameis Winston are long-term answers for this team, and though Winston is the only passer under contract with New Orleans for 2023 that is an easy deal for the team to get out of. So we should anticipate some movement in free agency, even if it’s something as small as bringing back Dalton on a backup’s salary so the Saints can look to draft a rookie who can develop into a starter.
The salary cap situation makes it tricky. New Orleans can work around the cap as always to reach compliance and open up resources, but it’s going to be tough to afford a top-shelf quarterback salary. That likely takes Lamar Jackson off the table (and he’s unlikely to reach free agency anyway; the Baltimore Ravens can retain him with the franchise tag), but you never know. The Saints had a plan to fit Deshaun Watson’s landmark salary on the books. Maybe they can tweak it to fit Jackson, too.
What about Tom Brady? The geriatric future Hall of Famer could be a package deal with Sean Payton, or he may choose to retire (for real, this time). It’s tough to see him coming to New Orleans without Payton, though. He doesn’t feel like a realistic option otherwise. He wants a Super Bowl run with a competitive roster, and the Saints haven’t played much competitive football this season.
If the Saints do go for a veteran in free agency, these are five options:
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Alvin Kamara is under contract next season, but his status is in doubt with a possible suspension looming after an altercation in Las Vegas earlier this year led to felony assault charges. Besides him, Eno Benjamin is the only running back under contract for next season. Mark Ingram II and David Johnson will both be free agents, as will special teams reserve Dwayne Washington.
And that doesn’t even get into how poorly they’ve performed as a group this season. The Saints’ backfield lacks youth, athleticism, and production. They’ve got to get younger, faster, and more effective, regardless of Kamara’s availability.
However, it’s tough to see the Saints being big spenders at this position after rewarded Kamara with a multiyear contract extension. That’s a lot of money to tie up in one position group. Pending free agents like Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs will be looking for comparable contract offers to what Kamara got a few years ago; even quality No. 2 backs like Tony Pollard and Miles Sanders could be outside of New Orleans’ budget. So where could they turn instead? Here are five options:
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The once-stout Saints run defense has fallen off hard this year, with multiple teams running at will — often right up the middle. Between that poor performance and the lack of any defensive tackles being under contract for 2023, we should expect some turnover here. David Onyemata is still the best player in the group for the Saints, but he hasn’t met his previous heights. He’ll leave a hefty dead money charge behind (north of $10.1 million) if he isn’t re-signed, so they may as well extend him. It wouldn’t hurt to bring back Kentavius Street as a backup, but Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach haven’t sustained the flashes we saw earlier on.
And this is an area where the Saints’ salary cap challenges may come into play. The best available players like Javon Hargrave and Daron Payne will probably be outside their budget (if their teams even let them hit the market), so it makes more sense to target players who have either had part-time roles or who have missed time with injuries as more affordable options. Five names to know:
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Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed are a good starting point to work with, but things get dicey once you look beyond the rookies. Michael Thomas carries the team’s largest salary cap hit and may not be back next year (or back to his old self after another lower-leg injury). At least Tre’Quan Smith is under contract again. Jarvis Landry will be a free agent, though, as will Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harty, Kevin White, and other receivers who have gotten into games for New Orleans this season.
You’d like to add another player here, but the bloated contracts for wide receivers going around in free agency makes it a tough sell for the Saints. In a normal market someone like Jakobi Meyers would be very appealing as a sure-handed threat from the slot. But he’s likely to command a double-digit salary, as are other receivers on top of the market like Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Allen Lazard.
So it might make more sense for the Saints to draft a receiver. In a perfect world they would get Thomas back in the lineup playing well and staying healthy while Olave takes another step towards NFL stardom and Shaheed continues to progress. If they do look to free agency, these are some options who might better fit their budget:
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