Several New Orleans Saints rookies among NFL’s highest-paid undrafted free agents
There’s a lot to be said for hearing your name called in the NFL draft, but in some cases it pays to be patient and reach undrafted free agency. Those seas are turbulent, but there’s big profits to be won from sailing them. Several New Orleans Saints rookies have certainly cashed in this year after hammering out undrafted free agent contracts in the hours and days after the draft.
Once you get into the later rounds, some players may prefer to not be picked at all because of the unique contract quirks that comes with that status. For drafted players, contract guarantees are tied to their draft slot — so a sixth-round pick may only receive a signing bonus valued between $218,000 and $133,000, for example. Seventh-rounders receive even less in guarantees: former South Alabama wide receiver Kawaan Baker, the Saints’ seventh-round selection in 2021, only received $80,076 in guarantees as the No. 255 overall pick.
Not only do undrafted rookies get more guaranteed money, they also may have the luxury of choosing their team if there are competing offers on the table. Last year, the Saints signed returns ace Rashid Shaheed out of Weber State to an undrafted free agent contract carrying $222,000 in guarantees. He was the only undrafted rookie to get more than $200,000 in guarantees from New Orleans last season. At least three players have earned that in this cycle. Here’s why the Saints valued them so highly:
OL Mark Evans II, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
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Total guarantees: $241,000 (Source)
Evans (6-foot-2, 303 pounds) received the highest guarantees of the Saints undrafted rookie class, having started five years at the same program that sent Terron Armstead to the NFL. He won the 2021 Willie Roaf Award for the top offensive lineman in Arkansas. Though he spent most of his college career at left tackle, Evans also practiced at guard and center in case he was needed there, and he best projects to move inside in the NFL due to his short arms (32.3 inches) and aggressive style of play. The 23-year-old is always looking for work and finishes plays strong, but it sometimes gets him in trouble with 15 penalties in 17 games over the last two years alone.
LB Anfernee Orji, Vanderbilt
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Total guarantees: $216,000 (Source)
Orji (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) was projected to be picked as high as the fifth round, so the Saints may have gotten a steal in signing him as an undrafted free agent. The 22-year-old led the SEC in tackles per game last year (8.8) and produced 19.5 tackles for loss in his last 24 games as a starter, having moved to linebacker from safety. He was a core special teams player at Vanderbilt with 447 career snaps in the kicking game. Orji is a high-end athlete but needs to tackle more cleanly and better use his length when blockers reach him at the second level.
WR Shaquan Davis, South Carolina State
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Total guarantees: $216,000 (Source)
Davis (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) is a big target with some speed and big-play potential, having averaged 20.5 yards per catch on 133 career receptions (3.8 catches per game) at the FCS level. The 23-year-old is a former basketball player and looks the part with impressive body control but a missing physical element to his game. He also had as many dropped passes (30) as touchdown receptions (29) in his career and needs to show he can be a reliable target when the Saints dial up a shot play.