Predictions for 7 Saints restricted free agents like Juwan Johnson, Blake Gillikin

One of the more interesting facets of NFL free agency is the players who carry restricted status — typically those who entered the league as undrafted free agents with three years’ experience. Their restricted status gives teams like the New Orleans Saints multiple options at retaining their services in 2023, either on fully-guaranteed tenders, re-signing them to minimum salaries, or hammering out new contract extensions altogether.

And the Saints have seven restricted free agents to deal with. They’ve got to make decisions on them beginning on March 15, at the start of the new league fiscal year, and they have until April 21 to either sign them to a long-term deal or sign that contract tender on the dotted line. Let’s run through the list and how much it could cost the Saints in each scenario:

Restricted free agent tenders

The RFA tenders are fully-guaranteed one-year contracts that give the Saints at least the right of first refusal on any offers from other teams. At the higher tiers, they also promise draft pick compensation if the player leaves. We’ve seen New Orleans use these tenders in recent years on players like wide receiver Deonte Harty (2022), tight end Taysom Hill (2020), and wide receiver Willie Snead IV (2018), among others.

Here’s the value for each tender in 2023:

  • First round compensation: $6,005,000

  • Second round compensation: $4,304,000

  • Original round compensation: $2,627,000

Because many of the players who qualify for these tenders entered the league as undrafted free agents, the lowest level would not bring the Saints any compensation if they leave on a new deal. It functions more as a means of getting other teams to negotiate a contract for them. Restricted free agents can also be re-signed on a league minimum salary.

WR Marquez Callaway

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Callaway didn’t have a role in the offense last year, which was odd after he broke out to lead the team in receiving a season prior. He isn’t as  dynamic as Chris Olave or as surehanded as Rashid Shaheed, or as effective a blocker as Tre’Quan Smith, which limits his opportunities. It’s worth giving him another shot, but it would be a surprise if he gets much interest from other teams after a down year.

Prediction: Re-signs on minimum salary ($1,010,000)

P Blake Gillikin

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Gillikin leveled out last season after a rough start, and he’s one of the best young punters in the league when he’s on his game. He needs to prove he can settle down and consistently perform at that level when his number is called in 2023. He should return, though he’ll probably be wearing a new jersey number. Tendering him at the lowest level would make him the 10th-highest-paid punter in the NFL, while the veteran’s minimum makes him 24th. He earned the third-lowest per-year salary last year (34th).

Prediction: Re-signs on minimum salary ($1,010,000)

LB Chase Hansen

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

Hansen missed a lot of time last season with injuries, but he was an important special teams player for the Saints and they like having him on the depth chart as a backup. Pete Werner is developing a bit of an injury history of his own, so it makes sense to re-sign Hansen if they lose Kaden Elliss in free agency.

Prediction: Re-signs on minimum salary ($1,010,000)

LB Andrew Dowell

AP Photo/Stephen Brashear

Dowell has become a top special teams player for the Saints since signing with them out of Michigan State, having the led the team in snaps played in 2022 after ranking third in 2021. You’d like to hold onto him, but investing at the lowest tender level is probably untenable, and he deserves more than a minimum salary. He should draw interest from other teams looking to improve their punt coverage.

Prediction: Leaves for a better offer

TE Juwan Johnson

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson broke out in a big way last season, catching seven touchdown passes and showing impressive growth as a blocker. He’s earned a long-term contract extension as the Saints look to upgrade the No. 2 tight end spot where Adam Trautman hasn’t quite met expectations. But there’s been a lot of buzz about the Saints wanting a major upgrade at tight end, so it’s possible they let him walk away and take a big swing at someone like Mike Gesicki in free agency or draft one of the hot prospects early on. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t buy it, and I expect Johnson to return in 2023

Prediction: Second round tender ($4,304,000) to facilitate extension

DT Albert Huggins

AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman

Huggins missed the entire season recovering from a training camp injury, but the Saints could have released him at any time with a settlement, so maybe he’s in their plans for 2023. Their only defensive tackle under contract right now is Prince Emili who joined their practice squad late in 2022, so it makes sense to hold onto guys who know the system.

Prediction: Re-signs on minimum salary ($1,010,000)

DT Malcolm Roach

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Roach has a surprising number of fans for a rotational player, but he consistently pops off the screen with some big tackles for loss and a solid pressure rate relative to his snaps played. But he did play behind David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle, and Kentavius Street last year. He should return and hope his experience helps him earn more snaps as the Saints rebuild their defensive line in 2023.

Prediction: Re-signs on minimum salary ($1,010,000)

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire