The New Orleans Saints' draft strategy may have been altered when the news of star cornerback Marshon Lattimore's arrest became public Friday. Head coach Sean Payton attended the TCU Pro Day last week, focusing on linebacker Garrett Wallow and safety Trevon Moehrig-Woodard.
The linebacker position needs an infusion of youth and speed after the Achilles injury to veteran Kwon Alexander and losing Alex Anzalone in free agency.
The more critical position is cornerback. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was a New Orleans cap casualty and signed a free-agent deal with the Tennessee Titans. Marshon Lattimore is in the final year of his rookie contract and will earn $10.5M in 2021. Many anticipate New Orleans will restructure or extend Lattimore's agreement to provide extra room under the NFL cap.
His arrest exacerbates their problem at cornerback. Friday morning, Lattimore's representative Marcus Sidoti shared a statement with the media, “Mr. Lattimore, a proud Cleveland native with no prior criminal record or history, is fully cooperating with law enforcement’s investigation of this matter. He was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped by police and was arrested without incident and was not formally charged. We believe that this was a misunderstanding and that this will become even clearer as new information becomes available and is shared with the authorities.”
Later Lattimore was booked and charged with a fourth-degree felony for failure to notify and receiving stolen property. The alleged stolen property was a handgun reported stolen by a person in Euclid, Ohio. His possession of a loaded firearm is the central issue for Lattimore.
New Orleans must form a contingency plan based on the developments. Free-agent cornerback T.J. Carrie visited with the Saints earlier in the week at their Metairie facility. All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman's name has been circling the rumor mill for the past couple of weeks as a potential replacement for Jenkins. Expect more free agents for the team to target. Veterans A.J. Bouye, Casey Heyward, Josh Norman, Jason McCourty, Bashaud Breeland, D.J. Hayden, and Steven Nelson are available, but their market value may be an issue.
The Saints will prioritize cornerback as a significant position of need in April's 2021 NFL Draft. On Friday, Football Gameplan's Emory Hunt visited with me on the Crescent City Connection. If Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) is not available for New Orleans, Hunt mentioned Asante Samuel, Jr., Camryn Bynum (Cal), Greg Newsome II (Northwestern), and Caleb Farley (VA Tech) as candidates. He also believes this draft has more cornerbacks than the top-tier prospects like Patrick Surtain (Alabama) and Jaycee Horn, who may not be available at No. 28 for New Orleans.
The Saints have the draft capital to package a deal and move to a higher draft position or decide to draft multiple corners.
Besides Lattimore, New Orleans has Patrick Robinson, P.J. Williams, Keith Washington, Jr., and Grant Haley listed as cornerbacks under contract.
Marshon Lattimore could face discipline from the NFL for violating the personal conduct policy. The action is speculatory but has occurred in prior cases with NFL players. At the moment, Lattimore's case needs clarity - what is clear that they need a few good men at cornerback this offseason in New Orleans.