The list of pending free agents for the New Orleans Saints is a daunting one. Offensively, quarterback Drew Brees is expected to announce his retirement, while potential replacement Jameis Winston will be a free agent. Pro Bowl tight end Jared Cook is also a free agent, along with backup WR Bennie Fowler and contributors Ty Montgomery, Michael Burton, and Dwayne Washington at running back.
Defensively, starters like DT Sheldon Rankins, DE Trey Hendrickson, LB Alex Anzalone, and reserve CB/S P. J. Williams are set to hit the open market. The Saints have built one of the NFL's deepest teams because they've done an excellent job of finding talent in the later rounds of the draft, with undrafted rookies, and second tier free agent signings.
All eyes will be on top-level free agents Marcus Williams, Sheldon Rankins, Trey Hendrickson, and whether Winston will replace Brees. It will be difficult for the Saints to bring back any of these defensive stars because of salary cap issues that could also force them to move on from some of their other players.
Here are a few underrated players that the team should focus on bringing back in 2021.
D.J. SWEARINGER, SAFETY
The 29-Yr old Swearinger was signed off waivers from the Oakland Raiders late in the 2019 season. He appeared in 12 games last season and had 14 tackles with one pass broken up. Swearinger played in over 15 defensive snaps just four times in 2020, but filled in nicely for an injured Marcus Williams for a top-five New Orleans pass defense.
An eight-year veteran, Swearinger can play both safety spots and has started 73 games in his NFL career with 14 interceptions. If the Saints lose Williams in free agency, Swearinger is experienced and has excellent range at free safety.
ALEX ANZALONE, LINEBACKER
A third-round choice in the 2017 draft, Anzalone has missed two of his four years with injuries but has been a steady performer for the Saints when in the lineup. He averaged 53 defensive snaps per game over the first half of the year, then saw his playing time cut to an average of just 11 snaps per contest after the trade addition of LB Kwon Alexander. After Alexander's season was ending by an Achilles injury, Anzalone started the regular season finale and both playoff games, finishing the year with 50 tackles.
Kwon Alexander was an exemplary complement to All-Pro Demario Davis at linebacker, but he could be released if his $13.2 million dollar cap hit isn't restructured. Anzalone has had injury issues, but is a competent starter when healthy that is an athletic pass defender and instinctive against the run.
JAMES HURST, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
The 29-Yr old Hurst appeared in the last 12 games for New Orleans after serving a four-game suspension to start the year in his first season with the Saints. He started five games and provided excellent depth for one of the league's best offensive lines.
With the recent release of G Nick Easton because of high salary and concussion issues, Hurst is the most experienced lineman left from last year's roster. He has proven capable at both guard and tackle and played well when the Saints needed him to step in last season.
TY MONTGOMERY, RUNNING BACK
Montgomery would see few offensive touches during his first year with the Saints in 2020 sitting behind the team's other offensive stars. He had 3 touchdowns for 21 yards and played on just 10 offensive snaps in the first two games before a hamstring injury sidelined him until Week 10. Montgomery finally had a chance to showcase his skills in a season-ending win at Carolina, rushing for 105 yards.
A converted wideout, the 28-Yr old Montgomery adds valuable versatility to the offense and has shown the capability to take on the responsibilities of a featured back. With the team's salary cap issues possibly forcing them to move on from RB Latavius Murray, the talented complement to Alvin Kamara, Montgomery could be an inexpensive replacement.