Saints 2021 Defensive End Free Agency Preview

Several former 1st round draft picks at defensive end will be hitting free agency looking to revitalize their careers.  Could New Orleans add one of them on a cheap deal, as they look to maintain their own depth at the position?
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Since arriving as a 1st round draft choice in 2011, defensive end Cameron Jordan has been a consistent star and leader for the New Orleans Saints defense. Even on historically bad defenses through the middle part of the decade, Jordan was respected throughout the league for his production and effort.

Jordan had a down year in 2020 by his lofty standards, but fourth-year DE Trey Hendrickson enjoyed a breakout performance. Hendrickson led the team with 13.5 sacks, 25 QB hits, 33 pressures, and 12 tackles for loss, surpassing his three-year career totals in all categories.

Nov 29, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks Denver quarterback Kendall Hinton (2). Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY

Nov 29, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks Denver quarterback Kendall Hinton (2). Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY

Hendrickson now enters unrestricted free agency, which officially begins on March 17. He will attract heavy interest on the open market, with the Saints unlikely to afford to keep him because of their salary cap issues.

Jordan agreed to restructure his existing contract. New Orleans already has former 1st round choice Marcus Davenport, up-and-coming Carl Granderson, and recently re-signed Noah Spence at the defensive end position.

Dec 20, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Saints defensive end Carl Granderson (96) sacks Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15). Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY

Dec 20, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Saints defensive end Carl Granderson (96) sacks Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15). Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY

Even with solid depth at this position, the Saints could explore the free-agent market for edge rusher talent. They probably won't be in play for a high-priced free agent, including Hendrickson, but there is plenty of affordable talent available.

Here are a few possibly affordable fits for New Orleans.

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) sacks Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during a NFC Wild Card game. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) sacks Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during a NFC Wild Card game. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY

  • Vic Beasley (29 - Raiders)
  • Tyus Bowser (26 - Ravens)
  • Taco Charlton (26 - Chiefs)
  • Kamalei Correa (27 - Jaguars)
  • Markus Golden (30 - Cardinals)
  • Everson Griffen (33 - Lions)
  • Charles Harris (26 - Cardinals)
  • Tanoh Kpassagnon (27 - Chiefs)
  • Aaron Lynch (28 - Jaguars)
  • Takkarist McKinley (25 - Raiders)
  • Barkevious Mingo (30 - Bears)
  • Romeo Okwara (25 - Lions)

(Age and former team in parentheses)

Dec 8, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley (98) sacks Carolina quarterback Kyle Allen (7). Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY 

Dec 8, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley (98) sacks Carolina quarterback Kyle Allen (7). Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY 

Beasley and McKinley used to play with the Falcons, so they are very familiar with the NFC South. Both are former 1st round draft picks looking to revitalize their careers. Mingo, Harris, and Charlton are in similar positions; former 1st round selections never lived up to expectations.

Griffen, who New Orleans players and fans know well from his time with the Vikings, still shows flashes of being a Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Lynch is another former NFC North standout, with Chicago, that has been underrated throughout his career.

Dec 26, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) drops back to throw a pass against Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara (95). Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY

Dec 26, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) drops back to throw a pass against Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara (95). Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY

Kpassagnon was overshadowed by the bigger named talent in Kansas City, but has impressive athleticism and is still improving his game. Golden and Correa are pass rush specialists who could supply excellent disruption in passing situations.

Okwara is a rising star and was one of the few bright spots on an abysmal Detroit defense. He may command a higher salary on the open market than New Orleans is willing to spend at the position.

Bowser is another up-and-coming defender who is a better fit as a linebacker in the base defense, also a glaring New Orleans need with the recent release of Kwon Alexander. He has also shown promise as a pass rusher from a defensive end spot in nickel defenses.

Jan 10, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) is tackled by Baltimore linebacker Tyus Bowser (54). Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY

Jan 10, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) is tackled by Baltimore linebacker Tyus Bowser (54). Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY

With Jordan, Davenport, and Granderson already on the roster, New Orleans will not put a huge priority on defensive end in either free agency or the draft. However, if New Orleans can acquire a name or two off of the above-listed talent at a reasonable cost, look for the Saints to do just that to maintain the outstanding depth they had upfront in 2020.