Identifying the top 4 Saints offseason needs entering free agency

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John Sigler
·6 min read
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How should the New Orleans Saints improve in 2021? Put another way, what are your top offseason needs for the black and gold? And how can they get better at those spots?

To find out, I surveyed the roster and took stock of each position group. Here’s my take on the top four areas of need and a few others to consider, along with some thoughts on available free agents and top draft prospects. Let’s get to it.

Quarterback

Jan 13, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to quarterbacks Drew Brees (9) and Taysom Hill (7) during the fourth quarter of a NFC Divisional playoff football game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Under contract (3): Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, and Trevor Siemian Free agents (1): Jameis Winston First off, the elephant in the room: Brees is expected to retire, setting up a training camp battle between Hill and Winston (if he's re-signed). But the Saints don't have a long-term fix under center even if Brees does return. None of their quarterbacks are signed beyond 2021. They need an answer at the sport's most important position. It's unlikely they go shopping on the free agent market. Landing Dak Prescott would be a dream scenario (but he's probably not leaving Dallas), and Cam Newton would be fun (if he ends up leaving New England), but there aren't any other passers available who are better than what the Saints already have, which isn't saying a whole lot about either group. And let's just rule out a blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson. Maybe they luck into a solid rookie prospect, though it seems unrealistic to expect Mac Jones or Trey Lance falls to them. Could the Saints settle for a middle-round prospect like Jamie Newman or Peyton Ramsey?

Defensive end

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton greets defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) before their game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Under contract (6): Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Carl Granderson, Marcus Willoughby, Christian Ringo, Noah Spence Free agents (1): Trey Hendrickson The cupboard isn't quite bare, but it's worth remembering (and repeating often) that, if you round up, Hendrickson had as many sacks last season (13.5) as every other defensive end on the roster put together (14). That's a lot of impact plays you're losing in free agency. Maybe Jordan rebounds from a down year and Davenport finally, finally breaks out? There are so many free agents available that you'd think the Saints can find an adequate replacement, if not for their salary cap situation. They could end up forced to try another run at Jadeveon Clowney late this summer when more money is freed up from post-June 1 cuts, or else targeting an older free agent like Ryan Kerrigan or Everson Griffen. It's not ideal. A rookie draft pick might make the most sense, though you'd like to see the Saints avoid reaching on one just for the sake of it. ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have identified Jayson Oweh and Joe Troley as early-round options, but neither player looks like a great fit out of the gate.

Safety

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 17: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson #22, Malcolm Jenkins #27 and P.J. Williams #26 of the New Orleans Saints huddle up in the tunnel prior to the NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 17, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Under contract (3): Malcolm Jenkins, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and J.T. Gray Free agents (3): Marcus Williams and D.J. Swearinger, P.J. Williams Williams might be the team's top free agent, even if he doesn't play a premium position. He's simply a good player with ball skills and extensive starting experience. And forget the 2017 playoffs incident -- he was one of the NFL's best tacklers in 2020 after working hard to clean up his technique. The good news is there are plenty of safeties on the free agent market this year, which could lower interest in Williams and offer the Saints backup plans if needed. Starters like Marcus Maye and John Johnson make up a second tier beneath former franchise tag recipients Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons. And there's a decent group of draft prospects who could be available in the second or third round, but you'd rather not ask a player in that position to start right away. It's a lot for a rookie to absorb without much practice time while the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

Linebacker

New Orleans Saints linebacker Zack Baun (53) during an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)

Under contract (7): Demario Davis, Kwon Alexander, Zack Baun, Kaden Elliss, Chase Hansen, Andrew Dowell, and Wynton McManis Free agents (2): Alex Anzalone, Craig Robertson The issue isn't that the Saints don't have any linebackers -- they just have too many unproven backups and not enough known commodities. Davis is a great player. Alexander showed he can excel in their scheme, but everything is in doubt after his Achilles injury. Baun had a forgettable rookie season after replacing Elliss on the handful of snaps New Orleans plays with three linebackers. This is where lacking cap space hurts. A splashy free agent like Matt Milano would be a great addition. Even a mid-tier signing like Denzel Perryman would be welcome. But the Saints aren't in position to chase an upgrade here, even if they get out of Alexander's contract. So look to the draft for help. There are some decent first-round options like Tulsa's Zaven Collins or Mizzou's Nick Bolton. Unfortunately, the Saints have a terrible track record with drafting linebackers. Maybe they can turn it around.

Others

New Orleans Saints tight end Adam Trautman (82) goes through drill3 during NFL football practice in New Orleans, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, Pool)

  • Tight end. All of the pressure is on Adam Trautman now that Josh Hill and Jared Cook have been released. He's the only Saints tight end with much pro experience, but he's just a year into his career and has a lot to prove. Could New Orleans sign a veteran like Delanie Walker at the right price point?

  • Defensive tackle. Losses could pile up quickly if Sheldon Rankins signs with another team and if Malcom Brown is released or traded. Shy Tuttle has flashed but is he ready to see starter's minutes? What about Malcolm Roach?

  • Cornerback. Marshon Lattimore is entering the final year of his contract and Janoris Jenkins might be another salary cap casualty. Can you trust Grant Haley, Ken Crawley, or Keith Washington to start?

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