Analysis

New Orleans Saints Free Agency Outlook

New Orleans Saints Free Agency Preview

The Saints had a whirlwind of a 2021 season. They opened up with a 38-3 victory over the Packers in a “home game” played in Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida and the damage to the city of New Orleans that it left in its path. At one point, the team was 5-2. However, in their Week 8 matchup with Tampa Bay, a game in which the Saints won 36-27, the team lost its starting quarterback Jameis Wintson to a season ending ACL tear. From there the Saints were forced to start combinations of veteran journeymen Trevor Siemian, utility player Taysom Hill, and fourth-round rookie Ian Book for the remainder of the season. They dropped their next five games and wound up coming just short of making the playoffs as the 7 seed.

Two weeks after the end of the regular season, Head Coach Sean Payton – who held the position since 2006 – unexpectedly retired from coaching at the age of 58. Rather than hiring an external candidate, the Saints promoted Dennis Allen from Defensive Coordinator to Head Coach. As a result, the team was able to retain most of the remaining coaching staff. Heading into the offseason with a new head coach, the Saints have a number of questions to answer – most importantly at the quarterback position. Also, the team was nearly $80 million over the $208.2 million 2022 salary cap prior to this week. 

Update: The Saints are now $33,112,567 over the cap.

Here are the Saints’ upcoming free agents:

  • LT Terron Armstead (UFA) – 42.8% snaps – 31 years old
  • S Marcus Williams (UFA) – 92.7%  snaps – 26 years old
  • QB Jameis Winston (UFA) – 34% snaps – 28 years old
  • S P.J. Williams (UFA) – 48.8% snaps – 29 years old
  • RB Dwayne Washington (UFA) – 1.4% snaps – 28 years old
  • RB Ty Montgomery (UFA) – 27.5% snaps – 29 years old
  • LB Kwon Alexander (UFA) – 47.9% snaps – 28 years old
  • RT Jordan Mills (UFA) – 20.3% snaps – 32 years old
  • LG James Carpenter (UFA) – 3.2% snaps – 33 years old
  • S Jeff Heath (UFA) – 6.5% snaps – 31 years old
  • WR Kenny Still (UFA) – 25.1% snaps – 30 years old
  • QB Trevor Siemian (UFA) – 32.9% snaps – 31 years old
  • CB Ken Crawley (UFA) – 1.4% snaps – 29 years old
  • RG Caleb Benenoch (UFA) – 4.5% snaps – 28 years old
  • DT Jalyn Holmes (UFA) – 16.9% snaps – 26 years old
  • DT Christian Ringo (UFA) – 28.2% snaps – 30 years old
  • WR Tre’Quan Smith (UFA) – 47.7% snaps – 26 years old
  • WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey (RFA) – 19.8% snaps – 24 years old
  • TE Garrett Griffin (RFA) – 21.6% snaps – 28 years old
  • K Brett Maher (RFA) – 14.5% snaps – 33 years old
  • WR Deonte Harris (RFA) – 27.3% snaps – 25 years old
  • DT Shy Tuttle (RFA) – 44.2% snaps – 27 years old
  • DE Carl Granderson (ERFA) – 40.1% snaps – 26 years old
  • DT Jalen Dalton (ERFA) – 0% snaps – 25 years old

The only upcoming free agent on the Saints’ 2021 roster who played more than 50% of the team’s snaps on their respective side of the ball is S Marcus Williams. Williams was franchise tagged prior to the 2021 season and is a candidate for the tag again if the Saints can find salary cap space. While Williams is the only one who played more than 50% of the snaps, there are other key members of the team who will become free agents in a few weeks.

These players include starters who were injured for a good portion of the season such as LT Terron Armstead, QB Winston, and LB Kwon Alexander. Armstead was ranked as the 4th best pass blocker in 2021 among Tackles who participated in at least 400 snaps. Additionally, Winston – notoriously known for his 30 INT 2019 season – silenced many critics by only throwing 3 INTs in his 7 starts before injury. What makes Winston’s shortened 2021 campaign even more impressive is that his average depth of target (ADOT) during those 7 games was 9.5 (4th best in the league) and his NFL passer rating was 102.8 (6th best). As of March 1st, the Saints sit $42,245,453 over the 2022 salary cap. They have already made nearly $38 million disappear thanks to restructuring the contracts of WR Michael Thomas, RT Ryan Ramczyk, and LG Andrus Peat.

Franchise Tag 

  • S Marcus Williams

Williams will turn 26 years old just before the 2022 season kicks off. Even though he was franchise tagged prior to last season, the Saints may choose to tag the upcoming free agent safety yet again. When a player gets tagged for the second time, he receives a fully guaranteed one-year contract for the greater of (i) the average of the five largest salaries from that league year for the position in which the player participated in the most plays during the prior league year and (ii) 120% of the player’s prior year salary.

Williams was a top 10 safety by nearly every metric last season – allowing just 8 receptions and a 54.2 passer rating when targeted. While Williams is an old school FS, rarely coming down to play in the box and never rushing the passer, his value comes from his ability to play the single high “centerfield” role and limit downfield completions. The team as a whole allowed the 7th fewest total yards, created the 10th most turnovers (including the 7th most interceptions), and added the most expected points contributed by a defense of any team in the NFL.

Update: The Saints elected to not use their franchise tag this offseason.

Saints’ top team needs:

  1. Cap space
  2. Quarterback
  3. Wide Receivers

The #1 priority for the Saints at the current moment is getting under the salary cap. While they still sit more than $42 million over the cap, they do have a number of contracts they can restructure in order to create cap room even beyond the $42 million necessary before the start of the new league year. As for their actual team needs, quarterback is a glaring need. The Saints could go a number of directions here, including retaining last season’s starter Winston. With a relatively weak QB draft class, free agent quarterbacks looking to revitalize their careers (e.g. Winston, Trubisky, Mariota, etc.) could have much higher value on the open market than one might expect.

In Dennis Allen’s first season as head coach, he will likely want stability at the QB position, which Winston can provide given his familiarity with the team. Whoever is the Saints’ starting quarterback in 2022, they need better weapons than those available in 2021. Combinations of Marquez Callaway, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and Deonte Harris (all of whom started their careers as undrafted free agents) did not cut it last season. The return of Michael Thomas – which is a big question mark for a guy who has only played in 7 games over the past 2 seasons – will help the situation. However, the Saints haven’t had a receiver not named Thomas catch for more than 750 yards in a single season since Ted Ginn Jr. in 2017.