4 players the Saints should pursue in the second wave of free agency

The New Orleans Saints already made their splash in the first wave of free agency by signing quarterback Derek Carr last week, so they opted to stand pat and focus on getting their books in order with more contract restructures and a pay cut for Jameis Winston while other teams around the league threw money around (with some of it luring the Saints’ own free agents away).

So where do they go from here? The Saints have some obvious needs to address at defensive tackle and running back, but they could be looking to get deeper at other position groups, too. One consideration for them is the 2024 compensatory draft picks formula — right now, New Orleans is projected to receive the maximum four comp picks in next year’s draft with extra selections in rounds four and six.

So they need to be careful not to jeopardize those assets in signing new players. Here are some names we’re watching closely:

DT Shelby Harris

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The Seattle Seahawks released Harris this week (after acquiring him from the Denver Broncos in last year’s Russell Wilson trade) to save $9 million against the salary cap, which means he won’t factor into the 2024 compensatory picks formula. And the Saints should be interested. The 31-year-old is an ideal veteran to mentor the young rookies they should be drafting in a few weeks.

And he can still play, having led Seattle in Pro Football Focus run defense grades (78.5; the next-closest Saints defensive tackle was Shy Tuttle at 67.1) and posting a respectable 10.1 pass-rush win rate. For context, David Onyemata and Malcolm Roach were the only Saints interior linemen to do better at 12.7 and 11.0 respectively. Harris totaled 30 pressures which would have ranked second in New Orleans behind Onyemata (35) last season.

Oh, and by the way: Harris came into the league as a seventh round draft pick by the Raiders in 2014, starting out his career with Dennis Allen, Joe Woods, and Derek Carr in Oakland.

RB James Robinson

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Robinson is a restricted free agent, meaning he will not count into the 2024 comp picks formula, either. And the New York Jets aren’t likely to make an effort to retain him. He wasn’t a factor after their midseason trade last year, running behind a patchwork offensive line and without a quarterback to open things up, averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt on 29 carries through four games.

But before that, Robinson was an efficient runner with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He gained 1,070 yards on the ground as a rookie in 2020 (averaging 4.5 yards per carry while catching 49 receptions for another 344 yards) and continued to play well in 2021 despite a weird feud with then-head coach Urban Meyer. He practices good ball security with only 8 fumbles on 605 career touches.

Robinson is only 24 years old, so he still has a lot of productive football ahead of him. He’s also shown before that he can be the lead runner in a backfield if the Saints are going to be without Alvin Kamara for some time, but they’d be an ideal pairing when both players are available. He’d make a lot of sense for a Saints team looking to get younger and more explosive at running back. And his contract value isn’t likely to keep the Saints from drafting a rookie running back if the right opportunity presents itself.

TE Foster Moreau

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Tight end isn’t as big a need for the Saints after they extended Juwan Johnson, but an addition here should still be expected. It’s just as high a priority as fans feared it might be. Moreau knows Carr well, after played four years with the Raiders after being picked in the fourth round out of LSU, and he would be a nice get in free agency. He could push Adam Trautman down the depth chart and into a role focused on his blocking while Johnson and Moreau handle two-duties as receivers and protectors.

Moreau is competent enough blocking on running plays, but his strength is catching the ball. He converted 24 first downs on 33 receptions last season (both career highs) and he’s scored a dozen touchdown catches in four years. He could be a really nice complement to Johnson at tight end. Pro Football Focus estimates that Moreau could land a free agent contract valued at as much as $7 million per year, which would wipe out one of the 2024 sixth-round comp picks the Saints are projected to receive after losing Kaden Elliss and Shy Tuttle. That’s a lot to invest at one position group but he could be worth the investment. Carr has a history of getting the most out of his tight ends.

DT Taven Bryan

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Bryan played a career-high 642 defensive snaps for Saints defensive coordinator Joe Woods on the Cleveland Browns last season, posting modest production as a pass rusher (23 pressures at PFF, 3 official sacks) but he got pushed around a bit in run defense and still ends up on the ground too often, which was a problem for him in Jacksonville earlier in his career. But beggars can’t be choosers, and the Saints badly need to add more bodies to their defensive line.

They could do worse than signing a 27-year-old former first round pick who also happens to be a RAS superstar. Bryan has a PFF contract projection averaging $4.75 million per year, which would negate one of the sixth round comp picks the Saints could get in the 2024 draft. Those scales balance back out if they lose more free agents of their own, though.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire