Rarely do we see an NFL player return to a franchise that they had previously left either through trade or free agency, but the New Orleans Saints have had some success with that recently. Safety Malcolm Jenkins returned to the Saints, who he had played with for the first five years of his career, after six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Wideout Tommylee Lewis also returned to New Orleans after a year with the Detroit Lions.
Two years before that, CB Patrick Robinson was back in a New Orleans uniform after three years away from the franchise that he called home for the first five years of his career. Earlier in the decade, WR Robert Meachem and QB Chase Daniel each had second stints with the Saints after playing for other teams.
Here are some former New Orleans offensive players that will be available this offseason.
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, QUARTERBACK
(Saints = 2018-2019, Panthers = 2020-current)
Bridgewater was the backup to Drew Brees for two seasons. He stepped in for an injured Brees and went 5-0 as a starter in 2019, completing 68% of his passes for 1,384 yards with 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He parlayed that success into a lucrative three-year contract to be the starting quarterback with the Carolina Panthers last season.
The 28-Yr old Bridgewater went 4-11 as starter with the Panthers in 2020, completing 69% of his throws for 3,733 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. After just one season, Carolina is rumored to be moving another direction at quarterback. The Panthers are reportedly interested in trading for Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson, or could select one with the 8th overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Bridgewater has two years left on his deal and is unlikely to be released, but could be traded this spring if the Panthers acquire another signal caller. The Saints are looking to replace Brees, who will reportedly announce his retirement, and currently only have Taysom Hill under contract at the position.
MARK INGRAM, RUNNING BACK
(Saints = 2011-2018, Ravens = 2019-2020)
Ingram was one of the most popular players in franchise history. He had two 1,000-Yd seasons in his final three years with the Saints and finished with 6,007 rushing yards and 55 total touchdowns in his eight seasons with New Orleans.
He left the Saints as a free agent after the 2018 season as the franchise's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (50) and second in career rushing yardage, just 89 yards behind Deuce McAllister.
Ingram rushed for 1,018 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in 2019 with the Baltimore Ravens, averaging five yards per carry and earning his third career Pro Bowl berth. He was passed on the Ravens depth chart by rookie J.K. Dobbins in 2020 and rushed for just 299 yards and 2 scores in eleven games. Ingram was released by Baltimore at the conclusion of the season and is currently an unrestricted free agent.
The Saints already have a featured back with the dynamic Alvin Kamara, but head coach Sean Payton has always expertly used multiple backs in his offense. Latavius Murray has been a capable complement to Kamara the last two seasons and has two years left on his contract, but will count for over $4.1 million against the salary cap and could be released. The 31-Yr old Ingram knows the New Orleans offense well, has a close relationship with Kamara, and could be willing to play at a cheaper deal.
WILLIE SNEAD, WIDE RECEIVER
(Saints = 2015-2017, Ravens = 2018-2020)
Snead became a fan favorite after entering the league as an undrafted rookie with the Browns, then being poached off Carolina's practice squad by the Saints in 2014. He caught 69 passes for 984 yards and 3 touchdowns for the Saints top-ranked passing offense in 2015. Snead teamed with then-rookie wideout Michael Thomas in 2016 to help the Saints lead the league in passing yardage again, contributing 72 receptions for 895 yards and 4 touchdowns. He left as a free agent following the 2017 season after just 8 catches and 72 yards as a role player.
Snead joined the Baltimore Ravens, where he caught 62 passes for 651 yards and a score in 2018 as a reliable veteran for rookie QB Lamar Jackson. He followed that up with 31 receptions for 339 yards for a run-heavy Ravens squad in 2019, but matched his career-high with five touchdown catches.
Snead started just eight games last season and had 33 receptions for 432 yards and 3 scores. He is an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to re-sign with the Ravens, who are looking to revamp their receiving corps.
The 28-Yr old Snead has valuable experience in the intricate New Orleans passing attack, something that hinders most first-year receivers with the team. He doesn't have gamebreaking speed, but is a reliable route runner underneath and on 3rd downs.
KEITH KIRKWOOD, WIDE RECEIVER
(Saints = 2018-2019, Panthers = 2020)
Kirkwood made the New Orleans roster as an undrafted rookie in 2018 and immediately impressed quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton. He didn't work his way into the lineup until mid-season, but had 15 receptions for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns over the last 9 games.
After suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out of the 2019 season, Kirkwood signed with Carolina as a free agent last year. He was active in just one game, catching 1 pass for 13 yards.
While not as accomplished as the other players on this list, Kirkwood has valuable knowledge of the New Orleans offense and is a big and physical target down the middle of the field.
If the Saints move on from productive veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders for salary cap reasons, they will expect Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway to play more prominent roles in 2021. A player like Kirkwood would come cheap and provide depth alongside Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Juwan Johnson.
JIMMY GRAHAM, TIGHT END
(Saints = 2010-2014, Seahawks = 2015-2017, Packers = 2018-2019, Bears = 2020)
For a four-year stretch with New Orleans, Graham (along with Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots) revolutionized the tight end position. In five years with the Saints, Graham caught 85 or more passes and had at least 885 yards receiving four times. He eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving twice, led the NFL with a franchise record 16 touchdown receptions in 2013, and caught at least 9 touchdowns in each of his last four seasons with the Saints.
In a shocking move, Graham was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. He finished his five-year New Orleans career with 386 receptions for 4,752 yards and 51 touchdowns. Graham ranks second in franchise history in touchdown receptions, 4th in receiving yardage, and 5th in receptions.
Graham had some success in three years with Seattle, contributing 923 yards in 2016 and catching 10 touchdowns in 2017, before signing with Green Bay as a free agent. He caught 93 passes for 1,083 yards and five scores in two years with the Packers before joining Chicago last year.
Graham had 50 receptions for 456 yards and a team-high 8 touchdowns with the Bears in 2020. Chicago is reportedly set to release the 11-Yr veteran tight end in a salary cap move. Rumors abound Graham has interest in reuniting with New Orleans, where he had his most success.
At 34-Yrs old, Graham no longer has the elite athleticism that has rarely been seen at the position, and he’s no longer capable of being a featured receiver. He does still possess the physicality and route running skills to make him a mismatch through the intermediate zones and near the goal-line and experience within the New Orleans offense.
The Saints will move on from disappointing veteran TE Jared Cook and move forward with second-year TE Adam Trautman. If Graham is willing to take on a secondary role and play for a team-friendly salary, a reunion of one of the most polarizing players in franchise history is not out of the question.