Saints free agency primer post-Derek Carr
With the ink dry and Derek Carr now the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, here is the rest of the Saints checklist this free agency period.
The New Orleans Saints solved their biggest offseason positional need with the signing of ex-Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. New Orleans was steadfast in their pursuit of the former Pro Bowl quarterback and fought off the New York Jets for Carr's services. With the post-Drew Brees quarterback position finally filled, the Saints can now focus on the upcoming free agency period.
Already, the Saints have resigned breakout tight end Juwan Johnson, as well as wide receiver Keith Kirkwood, defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton, and special teams standout JT Gray. The Saints still have some Mickey Loomis / cap strategist Khai Harley-level math to do to absorb Carr's contract, which undoubtedly will have a lower cap number for the 2023 season. With several contract restructures already done, Loomis and company can next turn to the contracts of Cam Jordan, Marcus Lattimore, and Andrus Peat as they perpetually kick the salary cap can down the road. With that in mind, let's focus on how New Orleans should approach the rest of free agency.
Saints Free Agency Move # 1 - Happily let Marcus Davenport sign elsewhere
With the emergence of Carl Granderson and the resigning of Kpassagnon, New Orleans would be wise to let Davenport sign an inflated contract elsewhere. The hope is also that new Saints defensive line coach Todd Grantham can optimize the performance of former top pick Peyton Turner. The decision to move up in the first round for a developmental defensive end in the twilight of Brees's career was one of the more questionable draft day decisions of the Payton/Loomis era. Davenport struggled with injuries during his New Orleans career but only had 0.5 sacks in 13 games played this last season.
Saints Free Agency Move # 2 - Reluctantly let linebacker Kaden Ellis sign elsewhere
The Saints are set at the starting linebacker positions with team leader Demario Davis and the breakout star Pete Werner. Ellis caught the attention of NFL scouts when he replaced an injured Werner in the starting lineup this past season. Unfortunately, that performance may have priced himself out of New Orleans comfort zone, especially with Dennis Allen's defensive schemes usually having only two linebackers on the field at any one time. Ellis's fate will be tied into his free agency market. If the price is right, he will be back in New Orleans. If a team gives him the right offer and a chance to start, his time in black and gold will unfortunately come to an end.
Saints Free Agency Move # 3 - Restructure Michael Thomas' contract to return to NOLA
The two Saints players who apparently were most responsible for the recruitment of Carr was native son Tyrann Mathieu and wide reciever Michael Thomas. Earlier in the offseason, the Saints restructured Thomas's contract to include a hefty $31.75 million roster bonus that triggers on St. Patrick's Day. Most people believed that this was a cap management move by New Orleans that would ultimately lead to Thomas's trade or release. However, with the acquisition of Carr, the Saints have started the process of negotiating with Thomas and his agent to lower his base salary and return on an incentive-laden deal. This would provide the Saints with a supreme contested pass catcher to pair with Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed in the wide receiver room.
Saints Free Agency Move # 4 - Restock the defensive tackle position
New Orleans frequently pushes money forward on Saints players they expect to resign, leaving dead cap space if the player signs elsewhere when his contract expires. This is the case with defenisve tackle David Onyemata, who would incur a $10 million dead cap hit if he is not resigned this offseason. The Saints would be wise to bring back Onyemata as well as promising young defensive tackles Shy Tuttle and restricted free agent Malcolm Roach. The Saints could look to the free agent market as well, with targets such as former Saint Sheldon Rankins as well as Ohio State veteran Johnathan Hankins, Regardless, look for the Saints to address this position early in the upcoming NFL draft.
Saints Free Agency Move # 5 - Find another Alvin Kamara
By now, most Saints fans are aware of the legal troubles of star back Alvin Kamara. The Saints would be wise to use an early draft pick on a running back next month. This year's running back class is the deepest in years and favorites include Alabama's Jahmyr Gibbs, Tulane's Tyjae Spears, and UCLA's Zach Charbonnet. Given the Kamara suspension will finally be implemented this season, New Orleans likely will address the position with a low cost free agency signing as well, as they usually try to avoid going into drafts with any glaring holes. Look for the Saints to be linked to veteran running backs James Robinson, D'Ernest Johnson, or former Saint Latavius Murray.
The recent aquisition of Derek Carr puts the Saints in the driver's seat in the NFL South and on track for an initial home playoff game. Considering they are a team that won 49 regular season games in the last four years of Brees career, New Orleans is used to being a playoff contender in the NFC. Despite only winning seven games last year, the Saints do not have a plethora of positional needs. If the Saints can follow the blueprint above, New Orleans could find itself back in the postseason and vying for a second Super Bowl berth in a weak NFC when compared to the quarterback-rich AFC.