It was an active offseason in New Orleans. First, iconic coach Sean Payton surprisingly retired after 16 seasons with the franchise. Established stars Terron Armstead and Marcus Williams departed in free agency, creating two big holes at left tackle and free safety. Another void was created by the retirement of veteran leader Malcolm Jenkins.
It wasn't all bad news. Longtime respected defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was promoted to head coach and is expected to keep much of the same continuity. The Saints luckily dodged a bullet after a public courtship of QB Deshaun Watson, instead re-signing Jameis Winston. After a series of trades, New Orleans picked up two first-round picks and added WR Chris Olave and OT Trevor Penning.
The Saints were also active throughout the free agency period. Over the last few years, they've had success with mid-tier names over more high-profile players. Most notably LB A.J. Klein, DT Malcom Brown, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, and LB Demario Davis, the best free agent addition in franchise history outside of QB Drew Brees.
This offseason, the Saints targeted more highly decorated veteran players. Top draft picks Olave and Penning are expected to make major contributions. New Orleans will also need a Demario Davis-like impact from a few of their free-agent additions.
Here are the three biggest veteran names that the Saints signed this offseason and their expected effects on the team in 2022.
MARCUS MAYE, S
Maye joined New Orleans after five years with the New York Jets. A second-round pick out of Florida in the 2017 NFL Draft, Maye was selected three picks before the Saints took S Marcus Williams with the 42nd overall pick. The 29-year-old Maye was signed to a three-year deal worth $28.5 million dollars, with $15 million guaranteed.
A playmaking defensive back, Maye had 6 interceptions, broke up 22 passes, and forced four fumbles over his first four seasons in New York.
His 2021 season ended after just six contests because of a torn Achilles. He’s expected to make a full recovery by the regular season opener and took part in the team’s OTA and mini-camp sessions over the last month.
Maye is an interchangeable safety with excellent instincts and vision as a deep safety, the coverage skills to play the slot, and the physicality to be effective at the line of scrimmage. He’s allowed less than 54% career completion rate when targeted and had 3.5 sacks and nine career tackles for loss.
At 6-foot and 207-Lbs., Maye is close to the size of a prototype safety with the athleticism to match. He expertly reads quarterbacks from a centerfield spot and has the range to play in a single-high safety alignment. His versatility, a must in this Saints defense, will allow him to play in the tackle box or match up in the slot.
Maye will most likely serve up to a three-game suspension this season for a DUI arrest in February 2021. Outside of that, he’ll probably be the one expected to most offset the loss of Marcus Williams at free safety.
TYRANN MATHIEU, S
A New Orleans native and former LSU star, Mathieu's signing was the most popular in recent memory among a portion of Saints fans. Nostalgia and local ties aside, New Orleans added an athletic upgrade over Malcolm Jenkins by bringing in the four-time Pro Bowler.
A third-round choice in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Mathieu has been a dynamic playmaker throughout his nine-year career with Arizona, Houston, and Kansas City. He has 26 career interceptions, 10 fumbles forced or recovered, has broken up 76 passes, and recorded 10 sacks and 41 tackles for loss.
The 30-year-old Mathieu was signed to a three-year contract worth $33 million, including $18 million guaranteed. He’s allowed a 61.8% completion rate over the last three years with the Chiefs and has 13 interceptions, 27 passes broken up, and eight tackles for loss over that span.
Even at 5’9” and 190-Lbs., Mathieu is also a force near the line of scrimmage as a run defender and a blitzer. His versatility has been a strength throughout his career and will be valued in the New Orleans scheme.
Mathieu will be a stronger asset in coverage than Jenkins was over the last few years of his career. Unlike Jenkins, he also has the speed and range to be used in single-high safety looks, allowing the Saints to move Maye and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson around the formation.
The combination of Gardner-Johnson, Mathieu, and Maye is an upgrade in versatility and athleticism over the trio of Gardner-Johnson/Williams/Jenkins.
It may take a few games for the trio to build the same continuity with the cornerbacks that their predecessors enjoyed. This trio not only has a chance to develop into the best in the NFL, but the greatest in franchise history.
JARVIS LANDRY, WR
If the LSU faction of Saints fans weren't ecstatic enough over Mathieu's addition, they were absolutely giddy over signing Landry, another local product and LSU star. Landry was brought in on a one-year deal at a $3 million dollar base salary, with the chance to earn another $3 million in incentives.
A five-time Pro Bowler over his eight-year career, Landry came into the league as a second-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Dolphins. He averaged 100 catches per year in four seasons with Miami, totaling 4,038 yards and 22 touchdowns. After a 2018 trade to Cleveland, Landry recorded 288 receptions for 3,560 yards and 15 scores in the last four seasons as a Brown.
Landry is one of the league's best intermediate route runners. He’s a physical receiver at 5'11” and 196-Lbs. with reliable hands in traffic. His acrobatic catches put on a show for onlookers in OTA and mini-camp sessions. Prior to missing five games with a knee injury last season, Landry missed just one of a possible 111 contests over his first seven seasons.
The 29-year-old Landry joins a Saints passing attack that ranked last in the NFL last season. New Orleans wideouts had just one 100-yard game last season in a year when 29 teams had at least two such outings.
The team also gets record-breaking WR Michael Thomas back after season-ending ankle surgery along with the dynamic Olave, but Landry will be counted on for big contributions in the offense.
Which high-profile incoming free agent will have the biggest impact for New Orleans this season?
Recent history tells us that at least one of them will have a productive season. All three were brought in to fill major positions of need. How successful they are in those roles will be a big factor in how successful the Saints end up in 2022.
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