Potential Day 2 free agent targets for the New Orleans Saints
By John Hendrix
Although it may not have been the big splash that fans were expecting out of the New Orleans Saints, the team had an eventful first day of NFL Free Agency.
The black and gold lost a great leader and player in tight end Benjamin Watson, but was able to replace him with Coby Fleener, who looks to replace Watson’s stellar production. The team tendered two of their own restricted free agents, guard Tim Lelito and tight end Josh Hill, and also re-signed kicker Kai Forbath. The Saints have made it a point to get back some of their own players, but still need to comb through free agency to fill some other glaring holes.
Next: 2016 New Orleans Saints Free Agency and Player Tracker
Here’s a brief overview at some of the best options available for the team at their biggest areas of need.
- Louis Vasquez (28) – A very versatile offensive lineman who struggled under zone-blocking scheme in Denver. Not necessarily the ideal addition, but still a solid option for a team looking for an interior lineman.
- Geoff Schwartz (29) – He was highlighted as one of my underrated free agents for the Saints to target, and looks to be recovered from a bothersome ankle injury. The Dolphins were reportedly the frontrunners, but is one to keep an eye on.
- Evan Mathis (34) – He was tough as nails during the Super Bowl season with the Denver Broncos, and was Pro Football Focus’ top run blocking guard. There are two concerns with Mathis, however. How will the recovery look from his right ankle surgery, and will Mathis even look to play another season?
- Chris Chester (33) – The former Atlanta Falcons right guard had rotator cuff surgery at the beginning of January, but played through pain during team’s last month. Reports state that there isn’t a lingering issue, and Chester is a pretty strong run blocker.
- Jahri Evans (32) – Unfortunately, a visit to the Buffalo Bills didn’t tip in his favor. Evans will continue to draw interest on the open market, but it doesn’t seem he’ll get the top-tier money he might be seeking. If the Saints really feel their situation won’t work to their liking, then you can’t rule out Evans reuniting with the black and gold.
- Robert Ayers (30) – Another top free agent target I had. Turns 31 in September, reportedly wants a deal around $6 million annually. He was the only player on the New York Giants to hit double-digit quarterback hits (13), and was second on the defense with 25 quarterback pressures. Finished 2015 with a career high in sacks (9.0) in just 12 games played.
- Courtney Upshaw (26) – Didn’t exactly live up to the hype as the 35th overall pick in the 2012 draft, but was quietly a good player for the Baltimore Ravens. A change of scenery with a more established role could do him some good.
- Junior Galette (27) – You can’t ignore that he’s out there. Yes, the bad blood and off the field garbage probably doesn’t make him a realistic candidate to come back to New Orleans. However, you can’t deny that Galette is a very strong pass rusher.
- Chris Long (30) – Coming off of two injury-riddled seasons, which raises red flags. However, if Long can get past it, then you’d see a very strong force of a pass rusher. Long reportedly wants to play for a Super Bowl contender, and most recently visited the Dallas Cowboys.
- Andre Branch (26) – LEO edge rusher who was fairly underwhelming as the Jaguars 38th overall pick in 2012. He’s been dealing with injuries, but would be an interesting player to bring in on a one-year “prove it” deal.
- Nick Fairley (28) – Rumored to be on the New Orleans Saints radar, and took his one-year deal with the Rams very seriously by staying out of trouble and performing well. He’s a good run stopper, and can constantly bust up plays with the attention he commands.
- Terrance Knighton (27) – Both figuratively and literally a big run-stopping presence at 6-foot-3, 354 pounds. “Pot Roast” still has plenty to offer, but I wouldn’t rule out him reuniting with the Denver Broncos now that Malik Jackson is out of the picture.
- Cedric Thornton (27) – Strong run stopper for the Philadelphia Eagles in their 3-4 defense. Swapping to a team as a 4-3 defensive tackle to play in situational football sounds fair.
- B.J. Raji (29) – Has been with the Green Bay Packers since 2009. Reportedly there’s mutual interest of a return, but Raji would likely be a situational defensive tackle wherever he lands. He can eat space and plug the run.
- Kyle Love (29) – Reserve defensive tackle with the Carolina Panthers who was key part of the rotation. Managed three sacks on the season, and could be very cap friendly.
- Zach Brown, OLB (26) – Extremely underrated linebacker coming off a bad season with the Titans due to a shift from the 4-3 to 3-4. Brown was one of my big targets for the black and gold to compete with Dannell Ellerbe.
- Tahir Whitehead, OLB (25) – Strong coverage skills with the Detroit Lions, used more as a SLB. Had two good back-to-back seasons with the team, and should cash in on a good deal.
- Brandon Boykin, CB (25) – Arguably one of the league’s better slot and nickel corners. Proved he was up to the challenge of extensive coverage for the Pittsburgh Steelers late in the season, and was one of my original free agent targets.
- Rueben Randle, WR (24) – Extremely talented, but very inconsistent. 6-foot-2 wideout who can serve as a decent/good WR2-WR3 for a team that needs one. Ties run deep to Louisiana. Original target that was on my free agent list.
- DeMeco Ryans, ILB (31) – He’s not what he once was, but the Saints need to fill a void at inside linebacker left by David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber. Call me crazy, but I like Ryans’ upside as a better option over James Laurinaitis.
Just missed the cut: Casey Hayward, CB; Leon Hall, CB; Jarvis Jenkins, DE; David Bruton, S; Zane Beadles, G