A free-agent contract scenario for New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson from Saints News Network's intern Andrew Gullotta.
DE Trey Hendrickson came into the 2020 season overlooked because of the 2019 progression of 1st-round selection Marcus Davenport and the potential Jadeveon Clowney acquisition in late August. However, after Davenport suffered an elbow injury and Clowney signed with the Tennessee Titans, Hendrickson was thrust into a starting role opposite All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan.
Once the Saints gave the Florida Atlantic product an opportunity, the sky was the limit. Hendrickson shined for the Saints, recording 13.5 sacks (tied for 2nd most in the NFL) in only 384 pass-rush snaps. The 2017 third-round selection picked an opportune time to have his breakout season, as he hits the NFL free agency market in March.
So, what type of contract will Hendrickson garner, and should the Saints seek to retain the breakout star this offseason?
Based on a model projection I created and Hendrickson’s 2020 statistics, the defensive end is projected to occupy 6.4% of a team’s salary cap, which converts into an $11.6M* for 2021. Hendrickson’s cap figure is based on the projected $180.5 million NFL salary cap.
Specifically, the 26-year-old ranked second in sacks per game, ninth in tackles for loss per game, tied for seventh in Approximate Value per game, tenth in Pro Football Focus (PFF) pass-rush grade, and sixteenth in total pressures per game compared to the rest of the model’s sample size. Hendrickson also achieved these statistics on a fractional number of pass-rushing snaps compared to other defensive ends illustrated in the model.
Hendrickson has a strong possibility of receiving a contract offer as one of the top edge rushers from this free-agent class.
LENGTH OF A DEAL?
After Hendrickson’s breakout season, it's likely he will receive a long-term contract offers. The minimum could be a 3-year deal. Saints insider Nick Underhill noted that the 2016 C-USA defensive player of the year wouldn’t be the first pass rusher to have a breakout season in a contract season. He compared Hendrickson’s situation to Frank Clark (Kansas City), Kyle Van Noy (Miami), and Nick Perry (Packers), who all received 4-year and 5-year contracts following their break-out seasons.
The 2021 free agent edge rushers class is extremely deep, led by Pro Bowlers Yannick Ngakoue (Baltimore), Shaq Barrett (Tampa Bay), Ryan Kerrigan (Washington), and Justin Houston (Indianapolis). However, Hendrickson’s explosion for 13.5 sacks in 2020 should tilt in his favor to receive a coveted long-term contract.
"Trey had a great season and a breakout season for him, and obviously he's going to be an attractive free agent for anyone."
Even though the four-year pro had only one year of elite production, teams will gush over his outstanding efficiency in 2020 and young age, only 26 when next season starts, which provides optimism that he can replicate his success.
According to these factors, the developed model estimates Hendrickson could receive contract values of projects contract offers for 4-5 years in the range of $11.5M-12M per year. These deals allow the edge rusher to cash in on his breakout season and give him the security after his monster 2020 season.
So, what does this mean for the Saints?
In the offseason, the Saints have to find their successor to the legendary Drew Brees, extend Pro Bowlers cornerback Marshon Lattimore and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and deal with a sticky salary cap situation. New Orleans may not have the means but to sign only one of their leading players hitting free agency: DE Trey Hendrickson and S Marcus Williams.
In a case where the Saints must choose between the two, New Orleans should elect extending an offer to Williams, as the team has not found many safeties of his caliber in the Sean Payton era. The Saints don’t have a natural replacement for the 2017 second-round pick on their current roster.
However, with Hendrickson, former first-round pick Marcus Davenport and 2019 undrafted pass rusher Carl Granderson will return to New Orleans in 2021.
According to the predictive model, Davenport and Granderson have a combined salary cap value of 5.2%, which would already fill over 80% of the void if they should lose Hendrickson’s 2020 production. Additionally, this projection does not account for any possible progression that both UTSA and Wyoming products make during the offseason.
New Orleans may sign Williams over Hendrickson because the Utah product has been more consistent throughout his career, as his lowest season PFF grade is a respectable 71.1. Conversely, Hendrickson has been less steady, with zero seasons of five or more sacks before his breakout campaign in 2020.
When accounting for Hendrickson’s 2019 season, where he only posted 4.5 sacks, into my predictive model, his projected salary cap percentage falls from 6.4% to 3.7%, which converts to a loss of around $5 million of average annual salary. This feature to Hendrickson’s career makes him less appealing over Williams and is his only blemish on his argument to receive a long-term deal.
However, most teams will look at his elite 2020 production and efficiency, which outweighs his past struggles. If the Saints have to choose between these two players, who both had solid seasons before free agency, they may not have that luxury to lean on only his 2020 success.
Even if it isn’t with New Orleans, Hendrickson is in an excellent position to earn a long-term contract and should get a chance to prove himself as an established commodity and not a “one-year wonder.”