Where do Saints players rank on top 2021 free agents lists?

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John Sigler
·6 min read
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Which of their own free agents should the New Orleans Saints prioritize in signing? Is it longtime starting free safety Marcus Williams, surprising sack leader Trey Hendrickson, or Jameis Winston, who plays the most important position of them all? It’s unclear how teams around the NFL have evaluated those players, much less for the Saints themselves.

There’s some value in looking to media rankings of all available players. There isn’t a ton of value, sure, given how wildly each outlet approaches the task; some analysts are better informed than others, positions are valued differently, and they don’t even all rank the same number of players (50-strong lists were most common, while the team at Pro Football Focus went all the way up to 200).

Still, let’s take a look at how the Saints free agents have been ranked, ordered from highest average placement to lowest:

FS Marcus Williams

New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams warms up during pregame of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Williams had an average ranking of 18.7, which makes him a near-consensus top 20 free agent in the 2021 class. He's also unlikely to receive the franchise or transition tag given New Orleans' salary cap outlook, meaning there's a real chance he becomes the rare blue chip talent to actually change teams in the offseason. Of course the Saints would like to retain him. Williams is an every-down defender whose skills and production would be tough to replace. But with so few slices of the pie to go around, some good players are going to be left hungry this year.

DE Trey Hendrickson

New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson (91) lines up before a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Kevin Sabitus)

It's a bit surprising to see Hendrickson not rank highest among the Saints free agents given the discourse surrounding him, which he's earned by finishing tied for the second-most sacks in the NFL in 2020. Three outlets didn't even consider him among their top 50 players (which was all they ranked), but that's not as big of a shock given that he was twice ranked in the 60's. The end result is an average ranking of 40.5. So is this a case of Hendrickson's value in the media not being matched by how teams perceive him? Or could he genuinely be hit with a more depressed market than what we're expecting? We'll find out in just a few short weeks, but a dearth of landing spots would help New Orleans re-sign him.

QB Jameis Winston

TAMPA, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 08: Jameis Winston #2 of the New Orleans Saints stands on the field during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on November 08, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Winston is in a weird spot, with a 53.4 average ranking. He's both an afterthought in some places and, weirdly, the only Saints free agent considered at some outlets. The former first overall draft pick didn't start a single game in 2020 and the Saints were, well, careful to limit his exposure to mop-up situations (and that extremely cool and fun trick play touchdown pass in the playoffs). Maybe the issue is that his return to New Orleans feels inevitable, given the way Sean Payton has talked about him and how reports describe him as being "in the driver's seat" to replace Drew Brees.

TE Jared Cook

TAMPA, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 17: Jared Cook #87 of the New Orleans Saints hauls in the touchdown pass from Drew Brees #9 during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 17, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images)

We're a long way from Cook's 10-day negotiating marathon with the Saints as a free agent in 2019. He's shown the flashes of athletic ability to justify his lengthy career, as well as the frustrating drops and fumbles that explain why he hasn't stuck with any team for very long. Now he's lingering near the back of the crowd with an average ranking of 81.7, at least on the outlets aware of him.

DT Sheldon Rankins

FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2018 file photo New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) walks onto the field before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla. Rankins could sit out this Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018 and still finish with the best single-season statistics of his career. He has been arguably New Orleans' most improved player, and his emergence has helped the Saints capture the top seed in the NFC playoffs. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio, file)

Rankins is excited for free agency, but he may not receive many big-money offers. It only takes one team to bring him aboard, but his being overlooked in media rankings probably isn't a great sign of things to come. For his sake, here's hoping he garners more attention than the 98.7-average ranked free agent.

LB Alex Anzalone

CORRECTS DATELINE TO NEW ORLEANS, NOT Metairie - New Orleans Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone (47) walks onto the field during NFL football practice in New Orleans, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, Pool)

Only PFF went through the trouble of ranking 200 free agents, and that put Anzalone on their radar. He's a better coverage linebacker than run defender and that could give him a leg up on his competition on the open market given the NFL's trend towards pass-happy offenses. But don't expect him to make much of a splash on anyone's salary cap table.

OL Nick Easton

New Orleans Saints center Nick Easton (62) blocks in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins in New Orleans, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Easton was recently released by the Saints in a cap space-saving move, but he's already drawing more interest from teams than from media outlets. He could even return to New Orleans if the price is right. But at this stage, it doesn't seem like anyone is counting on him to be more than a backup.

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