By: David Wiggins
A look at the New Orleans Saints options to replace a few of the multiple key pieces lost this offseason.
It’s no secret the New Orleans Saints have gone through a major transformation this offseason in an effort to get under the recently reduced salary cap. At the moment they will only be returning nine starters from last year’s team.
They have managed to get under the cap (for this year, 2022 could see them in a similar situation), but it didn’t come without having to cut ties with some key contributors from 2020’s squad.
However, Mickey Loomis has repeatedly refuted the idea that the Saints are rebuilding, just “retooling” as he puts it. But if he wants to return to the perennial NFC South champion standard they have set the last 4 consecutive years, they will have to find a way to find some serviceable replacements in some key spots. Let’s take a look at their biggest losses and their best options to replace them while still keeping the salary cap in mind.
Trey Hendrickson (DE).
Hendrickson exploded onto the scene in 2020 recording 13.5 sacks and 12 TFL, good enough to earn him his first pro bowl selection. That production, combined with it being a contract year for ‘T-Rex’ and the Saints being strapped for cash as they were, made it nearly impossible for them to bring him back.
Draft: Jaelan Phillips, Jayson Oweh, Rashad Weaver
FA/Trade: Melvin Ingram, Justin Houston, Olivier Vernon
In-house: Marcus Davenport, Carl Granderson, Tanoh Kpassagnon
With the signing of Kpassagnon and still being mindful of their cap situation, the draft or promoting someone from inside seems like the more likely move for the Saints here considering the top remaining free agents will probably be asking for more than New Orleans is willing to offer.
Much like with Smith at receiver, 2018 first round selection Marcus Davenport has progressed a little slower than the Saints would’ve preferred, and definitely battled more injuries than they would’ve preferred.
Until (if) one player becomes the obvious choice, we could see the RDE position being somewhat of a revolving door consisting of a little of Davenport, Granderson, and Kpassagnon, opposite perennial pro bowler Cam Jordan going into the season.
In limited playing time, the Saints seem to like what they’ve seen from the 6’5 250lb Granderson and he could carve out a significant role in the defense if Davenport continues to underperform and/or battle injuries.
Janoris Jenkins (CB).
Jenkins played 90% of the Saints defensives snaps in the 13 games he played after missing 3 with a calf injury.
Draft: Caleb Farley, Jaycee Horn, Greg Newsome, Asante Samuel Jr.
FA/Trade: Richard Sherman, Breshaud Breeland, Casey Hayward Jr.,
In-house: Pj Williams, Patrick Robinson, Grant Haley.
My preferred route for the Saints to address the cb2 role would be the draft. The talent is deep this year and would help save money too. Caleb Farley is pegged as the top guy for the job but the other options, especially Horn, would be serviceable replacements. Horn also historically fits the mold that the Saints look for in a corner.
If they do decide to address this in the draft, it would be wise to try to sign an experienced veteran along with them as the learning curve at corner from college to the NFL is arguably the sharpest of any position.
Emmanuel Sanders (WR).
Emmanuel Sanders leaves behind 82 targets, good for 61 catches, 726 yards and 5 touchdowns after joining Josh Allen and co. in Buffalo in March. The Saints and heir-apparent to Drew Brees, Jameis Winston, will have to find some consistency at the WR2 spot they were without before Sanders arrival.
Draft: Terrace Marshall, Rondale Moore, Kadarius Toney.
FA/Trade: Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Golden Tate, Dede Westbrook.
In-house: Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Calloway, Deonte Harris
Sean Payton could go a few directions here. Tre’Quan Smith has served in the second receiver role opposite Michael Thomas before but never really found a groove in the years before Sanders. Despite being knocked down to the third receiver role, he posted career highs in receptions and yards, due in part to Michael Thomas missing significant time and Emmanuel Sanders missing three games.
Since the Saints have a few more options here than they do with the CB position, I could see them taking a wide receiver in the 2nd or 3rd round, signing one of the non-keynote free agents, and going into 2021 with Tre’Quan Smith and the 2nd year undrafted Marquez Callaway, who flashed some in Thomas and Sanders absence in 2020.
Sheldon Rankins (DT).
Sheldon Rankins has been a staple on the interior for the Saints line for the last four years, starting all 16 games in 2017 and 2018 before battling injuries in 2019 and 2020 which he only played 10 and 12 games respectively.
Draft: Christian Barmore, Milton Williams, Alim Mcneill
FA/Draft: Jurrell Casey, Geno Atkins, Tyrone Crawford.
In-house: David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle,
While it wouldn’t hurt for the Saints to add some depth here, there isn’t much of a question that David Onyemata will be the starter in 2021. In Rankins large absence last year, Onyemata started 15 games and recorded 44 tackles and 6.5 sacks, two passes defended and 1 interception, all career highs for the 5th year man.
If the Saints really are going to “retool” as GM Mickey Loomis put it and continue to compete in the NFC, they have some serious holes to fill and some salary cap gymnastics to perform before the start of the season. Thursday’s draft will give us some answers as to what Loomis and Payton and co. have up their sleeve as the 2021 season nears.