MARCUS WILLIAMS UPDATE - 2:20 PM CST, 3/9/21
New Orleans will place the franchise tag on safety Marcus Williams, per report from Ian Rapoport.
The approximate tag value is $10.5M for 2021.
This is a surprising move by the New Orleans front office. GM Mickey Loomis will need to make more move for the team to get under the $185M cap limit.
Several years ago, the Saints faced a similar challenge. Would they extend a contract offer to safety Malcolm Jenkins ahead of free agency? They didn't, and Jenkins signed with Philadelphia and won a second Super Bowl ring. Sean Payton references the decision to allow Jenkins to leave New Orleans as the "worst mistake" he made as head coach in New Orleans.
If we fast forward to today, the Saints can franchise Williams, but it's unlikely. New Orleans is hopeful they can re-sign safety Marcus Williams without placing a franchise tag on their young defensive star.
According to ESPN reporter Jeremy Fowler, safety Marcus Williams “has a chance” to re-sign with the Saints, as he hits the free-agent market in just a few days.
After New Orleans drafted the Utah product in the second round of the 2017 draft, Williams has started 60 games for the Saints, intercepted 13 passes, accumulated 30 passes defensed, and posted an 81.8 defensive Pro Football Focus Grade.
Over the past four years, Williams has ascended into one of the top safeties in football, showing he can range from sideline to sideline, defend passes downfield, understand complex coverage schemes, and make tackles over the middle of the field. The safety’s 2020 midseason turnaround helped propel the Saints into becoming a top-five defense last season.
However, Williams’ progression did not come without bumps in the road. He committed one of the worst plays in New Orleans Saints history by allowing the infamous "Minnesota Miracle" in the 2017 NFC Divisional Round. The Utah product also saw a dip in play in 2018, where his interception total and passes defensed.
Williams is a battle-tested player and has evolved into one of the top free-agent safeties for 2021. The University of Utah star should garner plenty of interest as a free agent. He intercepted three passes and posted a 78.6 defensive PFF grade in 2020.
Last week, Fowler also reported the Saints are “expected to prioritize” Williams in their free-agent strategy but stated the safety would have a strong market. The Athletics' Katherine Terrell echoed Fowler's sentiment on Williams.
Free agency begins March 17. New Orleans must consider more contract restructuring and releases to comply with the NFL cap limit currently set at $185M. Retaining Marcus Williams is a priority. If New Orleans does not place the franchise tag Williams before the end of today's business, he will become an unrestricted free agent.
*Article written by SNN Intern Andrew Gullotta.