Will the Saints Add a Veteran Free Agent With New Salary Cap Space?

New Orleans added more salary cap room with their recent contract extension of All-Pro OT Ryan Ramczyk. Will the Saints use that money to bring in a veteran or two prior to the start of training camp this month?
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The New Orleans Saints reached a contract extension with All-Pro RT Ryan Ramczyk last week. Doing so created an additional $5.56 million of salary cap space for New Orleans. They now have $11.3 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com.

New Orleans had major salary cap issues heading into the 2021 offseason. The team had to move on from several key contributors and had little activity during the free agency signing period.

With the cap space now available, the Saints may look to add a few veteran free agents at some positions of need.

NFL training camps open in just three weeks. Here are some of the remaining free agents at three different positions that were weakened by offseason releases.

WIDE RECEIVER

Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook (12) makes a reception against the Washington Redskins. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook (12) makes a reception against the Washington Redskins. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

  • Dede Westbrook (27 - Jaguars)
  • Kenny Stills (29 - Bills)
  • Golden Tate (33 - Giants)
  • Alshon Jeffery (31 - Eagles)

The inexperience and inconsistencies of the New Orleans receiving corps were exposed when All-Pro WR Michael Thomas missed nine games with an ankle injury last season.

Continued improvements are expected from young wideouts Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway and 2018 third-round pick Tre'Quan Smith.

Coach Sean Payton tipped his hand on how he feels about his receiving unit by not addressing the position until the seventh round of this year's draft. Rookie Kawaan Baker has outstanding athleticism and has shown the improved route precision to be a potential factor for the New Orleans offense in 2021.

An established veteran route runner like Golden Tate would be a terrific addition but will likely command too much money. Westbrook has a similar style to Tate and could flourish in Payton's timing-based offense.

Jeffrey is a big target that fits the New Orleans prototype but has struggled with injuries and production in recent years. Stills began his career with the Saints in 2013 and 2014 and still has the deep speed to threaten defenses.

LINEBACKER

New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) returns a fumble against the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) returns a fumble against the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

  • Kwon Alexander (27 - Saints)
  • K.J. Wright (32 - Seahawks)
  • Avery Williamson (29 - Steelers)
  • Tahir Whitehead (31 - Panthers)
  • Todd Davis (29 - Vikings)
  • Patrick Onwuasor (29 - Jets)

Saints LB Demario Davis is one of the league's best defensive players. The mid-season trade that united Davis and Kwon Alexander helped elevate the New Orleans defense to an elite level. 

Offseason losses of Alexander, Alex Anzalone, and Craig Robertson leave the position to three unproven players around Davis.

Rookie second-round choice Pete Werner may be an opening day starter after a productive college career. Zack Baun, a third-round pick in 2020, moved to linebacker after playing mostly along the edge in college. He needs to show a significant improvement in his second season. Third-year pro-Kaden Elliss must prove he can stay healthy and play as instinctively as he did in college.

If the Saints make a move here, the most logical choice would be Alexander, who looks great while rehabbing from a torn Achilles that ended his 2020 season. Wright is still a top linebacker but could command too much money even on a one-year deal.

Onwuasor would be an underrated addition. He’s a sideline-to-sideline defender coming off a season-ending injury but capable in coverage and as a pass rusher. Whitehead is on the downside of his career but still able to be an asset in coverage. Todd Davis is an excellent tackler and effective against the run but can be a liability in man coverage.

CORNERBACK

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (20) intercepts a pass against the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (20) intercepts a pass against the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY

  • Dre Kirkpatrick (31 - Cardinals)
  • Gareon Conley (26 - Texans)
  • Richard Sherman (33 - 49ers)
  • Steven Nelson (28 - Steelers)
  • Brian Poole (28 - Jets)
  • Buster Skrine (32 - Bears)

The release of CB Janoris Jenkins this offseason was the biggest blow to the Saints on either side of the ball. Three-time Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore is one of the league's best, but could be facing a league suspension for an offseason arrest.

New Orleans spent a third-round selection on Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo, who looks like an outstanding fit. He’ll have to mature and develop quickly because depth here is abysmal with Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is expected to take more snaps at cornerback this season. Gardner-Johnson is one of the NFL's most efficient slot corners and gave up just 57.4% completion percentage when targeted in 2021. New Orleans has shown interest in veteran corners Richard Sherman and Dre Kirkpatrick in recent weeks.

Injuries limited Sherman to five games last season. He isn't the same elite defensive back he was when he played for new Saints secondary coach Kris Richard in Seattle earlier in his career. Sherman is still a quality coverage option that gave up 62% completion percentage the previous two years with San Francisco.

Kirkpatrick provides another reliable man-to-man option.  He's at his best on the outside but can also play from the slot. Skrine and Poole are best from the slot, but Poole can line up outside and has experience against the offenses of the NFC South.

Nelson is better off-ball coverage and has an excellent reaction to the throw but has given up less than 60% completion percentage when targeted over the last three seasons.

Conley, a teammate of Marshon Lattimore at Ohio State, was finally playing up to his billing of being the 24th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft before injuries sidelined him in 2020. He had 3 interceptions with Oakland in 2018 and gave up just 57% completion percentage after being traded to Houston in 2019.

Houston Texans cornerback Gareon Conley (22) breaks up a pass intended for Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) © George Walker IV / Tennessean.com, Nashville Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Houston Texans cornerback Gareon Conley (22) breaks up a pass intended for Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) © George Walker IV / Tennessean.com, Nashville Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Saints led the NFL with 18 interceptions in 2020 and finished fifth against the pass. It was their highest ranking in that category since 2013. They still have some great defensive pieces in place, but offseason personnel losses created several questions at some positions.

New Orleans may add a veteran pass-catcher before training camp but seem comfortable with their current pieces at wide receiver. It seems more likely that the Saints bring in a cornerback or linebacker to strengthen their pass defense before the 2021 season.


Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.

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