Saints free agent review: DE Marcus Davenport

The New Orleans Saints’ 2023 offseason is already here, and they have a long list of pending free agents to sift through. Some decisions will be tougher than others, and a couple of players bring a lot for team decision-makers to mull over in the weeks and months leading up to the free agency signing period.

We’ll be taking some time to single out those major soon-to-be free agents whose future with the team is uncertain once their contracts expire in March. First up: defensive end Marcus Davenport.

Season stats

Davenport was credited with just half a sack in 2022, but Pro Football Focus charting found he ranked third-most on the team with 34 quarterback pressures behind Cameron Jordan (37) and David Onyemata (35). Those pressures are well and good, but Davenport’s struggles in finishing plays remains a concern. He also had the fewest PFF defensive stops (11) of all Saints defensive linemen to play 400-plus snaps. Stops are defined as tackles that typically allow the offense to gain 50% or fewer of the yards needed for a conversion. Davenport was active at the line of scrimmage but his poor conditioning to start the season never seemed to pick up, and too many opportunities got away from him because of it.

Snap counts

Davenport totaled 490 snaps on defense and 97 snaps on special teams in 2022, but his role was greatly reduced during the second half of the season. He averaged 62% of the Saints’ defensive snaps in Weeks 1 to 7 but that fell to 37% from Weeks 8 to 18, with Carl Granderson promoted to the starting job in his place at the right defensive end spot. Davenport’s reps on special teams were limited to the field goal block and kick units.

2022 season review

It was more of the same from Davenport’s fifth year that we saw in his first four years. He wasn’t ready for the start of training camp due to offseason hand surgery, and a midseason calf injury took him out of action for a few weeks. When he was on the field he couldn’t finish pressure plays with sacks. This was his worst season as a pro and it couldn’t have come at a worse time in a contract year. He was demoted at the midway point.

That’s not to say this is the end of his story in the NFL. We’ve seen how impactful Davenport can be when he’s healthy, in shape, and engaged. But if the prospect of earning a life-changing contract extension couldn’t spark him into at least matching his past performance, what will?

Future value to Saints

Davenport is still a starting-quality defensive end with tremendous upside. When he’s firing on full cylinders there aren’t many pass rushers around who can match his blend of size and speed. It’s just been too long since we saw the best version of Davenport for the Saints to put much stock in him returning to that level.

Through five years he’s struggled with inconsistent play and durability issues. It wouldn’t be a shock to see New Orleans make an effort at re-signing him, but he also doesn’t feel like a player they must retain at all costs. Even if Cameron Jordan is getting long in the tooth and Payton Turner hasn’t yet emerged as a viable player at defensive end, few would blame the Saints for going in a different direction.

Stay or go?

Honestly it may be for the best if Davenport gets a fresh start elsewhere. The Saints have sunken enough time and resources into him without enough of a return as it is. Pass rushers of his caliber still command heavy offers in free agency and it’s totally possible he thrives in a new situation surrounded by new teammates, coaches, and medical staff. New Orleans could take the not-insignificant salary cap resources earmarked for Davenport and put them to better use at other position groups, and maybe in signing a free agent who could match Davenport’s current level of play at a fraction of his cost.

On the other hand, Davenport only needs a few things to go his way to put together a career year. Better health and better help will go a long way for him. The problem is that he’s never played a full season to this point in the NFL, and he’s the kind of player you sign to support someone else, not the guy you want to have to prop up himself. One downside to letting Davenport leave in free agency: the Saints will be left behind with a dead money charge of $7.6 million after previously restructuring his contract.

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Story originally appeared on Saints Wire