Which Free Agents Can Sean Payton Keep?
By: Ryan Patrick
The New Orleans Saints made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and I don’t think many NFL fans were surprised on their birth into the postseason. The Saints have arguably the best roster in the entire league with a ton of mouths to feed on offense and a ton of productive players on defense. But this offseason the Saints now run into the most fundamental part of team development in the NFL, the salary cap.
That’s right, I hate to break it to Saints fans out there, but the time for your loaded roster is pretty much over. The Saints bought, and traded for one of the best rosters, but they’re running into similar issues that the Los Angeles Rams face as well, spreading the budget.
I’ve chosen two players that the Saints should re-sign, not re-sign, and release in order to get a head start on their salary cap fiasco this offseason. Also, I’d like to mention that I’m betting on Drew Brees following up on his word and retiring this offseason following his 20-year career in the NFL. He’ll go down as a great, a first ballot hall of famer, but he’ll leave behind a Saints team that needs to go through some spring cleaning.
Jameis Winston, QB – RE-SIGN
I already know what some people will ask with Winston, “why on earth would you ever re-sign him?” And my response to that is look at who he shares the position with, Taysom Hill.
Hill is a fun player in terms of you never know where he’s going to line up. But we saw when Drew Brees was out, Hill looked lost as a consistent quarterback. Hill only has one game under his belt where he’s thrown at least one touchdown and had zero interceptions, this was against the Falcons in week 13. Which even then, he fumbled the ball three times and lost one of them. All in all, he is not a consistent threat at quarterback, nor a threat a quarterback, period.
But look at Winston. Yes, he has a turnover issue and he is certainly not a top-20 quarterback in the league. But I would rather have Winston line up under center and be the consistent quarterback for the Saints. I’m just saying, he is a former Pro Bowl quarterback and he’s thrown over 4,000 yards in three seasons throughout his career, not to mention going over 5,000 yards in 2019.
Like I said, I expect a rebuild this next season in New Orleans. So, if the Saints dip low enough in the standings, they should be able to draft a quarterback, or perhaps sign one, in the near future. For now, a cheap, one or two-year deal for Winston will suffice for the Saints.
Marcus Williams, FS – RE-SIGN
Aside from his infamous missed tackle on Stefon Diggs in the 2018 NFC Divisional Playoff, Williams has adequately provided for this Saints defense since getting drafted there in 2017. With his rookie contract up, it’s time to sign him on long term.
The idea with this offseason for the Saints is to keep the defense in about as tip top shape as they can get it, and then rebuild the team from there. The Saints will want organizational veterans to keep that product on defense high. Williams would give New Orleans that and then some considering he picked off three passes in 2020 – he’s averaged over three interceptions in his first four years with the team.
Keeping a stable defense is obviously important, but a stable secondary is arguably the most important part of the defense. Getting beat over the top on a blown coverage absolutely kills a defense’s spirit and I’d rather have as solid of a secondary as possible heading into a brief rebuild.
Trey Hendrickson, DE – DON’T RE-SIGN
Yes, I understand that Hendrickson had a breakout season in 2020 with a career high 13.5 sacks and he was a snub for the NFC Pro Bowl roster. However, the Saints need to save money every where they can in order to make room in the cap for the rest of the roster.
Hendrickson is going to want a lot of money, plain and simple, and I don’t blame him. Since getting drafted in the third round with the team back in 2017, the Saints slowly but surely increased his role over the past four years But the question remains, did he have a breakout season because it was a contract year?
To avoid the Saints potentially dumping more money than he’s worth, Hendrickson is better off helping out another team’s pass rush and one that’d be willing to pay him well. I’m not officially saying he’s going to be a bust or not, but with a cap situation like the Saints have this offseason, there’s no time for taking gambles, they need guarantees.
Jared Cook, TE – DON’T RE-SIGN
For the past two season, Cook has been very solid for the Saints as their starting tight end. He put up a career high nine touchdowns in his first season and his second most touchdowns this past year. That being said, the Saints’ salary cap is bound for some spring cleaning this offseason, and not everyone can stay.
Since 2006, head coach Sean Payton has coached up some considerable tight end talent with the Saints. Jeremey Shockey, Jimmy Graham, and now even Jared Cook. That being said, I don’t doubt for a second that Payton and the Saints front office can set their sights on a new tight end to produce for the team in the future.
Much like the situation with Hendrickson, Cook will want a considerable amount of money after having a pair of breakout seasons. Cook is more dependable than Hendrickson is at the moment, considering he’s been in the league longer, but the Saints have a swiss army knife in Taysom Hill and a slant master in Michael Thomas to lift the passing game for years to come.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR – RELEASE
I’m going to put my fantasy football bias to the side since Sanders screwed me over in a handful of games this year, but his time in New Orleans is over.
I understand that he was the team’s second leading receiver this season behind Alvin Kamara, but when you have Michael Thomas miss nine games during the season for an abundance of reasons, how do you not capitalize more? Sanders had just one 100-yard game this past season, and had three other receiving performances where he had single digit yardage (including playoffs). It’s obvious that the Saints wanted to use Cook and Hill in the pass game this year, and for that, New Orleans has a chance to save some money.
Similar to the Cook situation, the Saints will be perfectly fine with Thomas and Hill running routes for them. Plus, with Kamara’s ability to receive in the back field, this team has more options in the pass game than most teams could ever dream of. Who ever is taking snaps for the Saints this next year, they’ll have plenty to work with.
Latavius Murray, RB – RELEASE
This release of course is to free up some more cap. But let’s be honest, are the Saints attached to any running back on the roster that isn’t named Kamara?
Kamara is arguably the heart and sole of this offense now that Brees will likely be gone and who knows about Thomas’ health and temper moving forward. Kamara as a top five back in the league shows every year that he can’t be stopped by some “joe-shmoe” on defense. Kamara makes every team scared when they have to face them on Sundays.
That being said, Murray is a good back and he’ll probably find work some where else. But the Saints are better off either re-signing Ty Montegomery or drafting a running back in the later rounds of the draft.