Five Reasons Why Re-Signing Eli Apple Should Be An Offseason Priority
The New Orleans Saints have a handful of difficult roster decisions at the conclusion of the 2019 NFL season. The Saints will have 19 players scheduled for free agency at the end of the season according to Spotrac.com. Thirteen of those players will be unrestricted free agents, including quarterbacks Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater. While we cannot understate the importance of a good quarterback, there are several other players that have been vital to the team’s success over the last three years that the front office will have to address.
Defensive tackle David Onyemata, safety Vonn Bell, cornerback P.J. Williams, guard Andrus Peat, and linebacker A. J. Klein are key players whose contracts expire at year’s end. Other than the quarterback position, there is one player among the pending free agents that should be a top priority for the New Orleans front office: Cornerback Eli Apple. Here are five reasons Apple should be a top offseason priority for the Saints.
It is rare that an NFL team has two top-flight cornerbacks, but that is exactly what the Saints possess with the 24-Yr old Apple and third year pro Marshon Lattimore. Apple isn’t necessarily among the league’s top echelon of cover corners but is probably the next tier below. He is 6’1 203-Lbs with the fluid athleticism to match up well with any wideout in the National Football League. Apple possesses good route recognition and ability to adjust to the ball in mid-air.
The 10th overall pick of the 1st round in 2016 by the New York Giants out of Ohio State, Apple has exhibited all the traits that made him such a valued prospect coming out of college. He stepped into the number 1 cornerback spot for Lattimore when the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year for last week’s game against Tampa Bay by a hamstring injury. Apple was part of a defensive effort that held Buccaneer star receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to just 7 catches for 116 yards combined.
Since joining the Saints in the sixth game of the 2018 season, Apple has 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 43 tackles, and 13 pass breakups. He allowed 44% completion percentage when targeted in 2018 and has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 50% of their passes against his coverage in 22 career games as a Saint.
2. Fit with the Team
New Orleans traded a 2019 3rd round draft pick and 2020 7th round pick to the Giants in October 2018 to Apple amid rumors he was a problem in the locker room. when he joined his new team. Apple’s addition to the defense quickly shored up a Saints secondary that had struggled over the first month of last year. He was already familiar with Marshon Lattimore and Vonn Bell, having played with both at Ohio State. The defensive backfield quickly meshed, and Apple’s presence in the lineup allowed P.J. Williams to move into a slot coverage role where he is more effective.
The combination of Lattimore and Apple in coverage allowed Coordinator Dennis Allen to be more aggressive with his defensive game plans and resulted in a much improved defensive performance down the stretch of last season. They have been dominant 2019, putting the clamps on nearly every receiving corps they’ve faced and establishing themselves as possibly the best cornerback duo in the NFL.
3. The Draft
Both Lattimore and Apple were drafted in the top half of the first round and have had successful careers. The draft can be a gamble though, as we have seen throughout NFL history. For every success story like the New Orleans duo, there is a saga like cornerback Vernon Hargreaves of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hargreaves was the 11th overall selection in the 2016 draft, one pick after Apple, but had an erratic three-year stint with the team until being released earlier this year.
Eli Apple is a proven commodity within the New Orleans defense and crucial part of a secondary that has both good communication and solid coverage ability. Keeping Apple would also allow the Saints to use draft picks to solidify the rest of a deep team that will suffer free agent losses and lacks depth in the receiving corps and along the offensive line.
4. Defensive Strengths
The Saints have a deep and talented defensive line both along the edge and inside. David Onyemata has blossomed into a fine player and an important part of their defensive tackle rotation. Onyemata will probably seek a contract that will put him among the league’s highest paid interior defenders after the season, however. New Orleans already has star Sheldon Rankins, offseason addition Malcom Brown, versatile Mario Edwards Jr., and emerging rookie Shy Tuttle at the position, ensuring both depth and production at the position even without the talented Onyemata.
Star safety Vonn Bell, whose contract will also expire, has been an underrated star for the Saints’ defense. Marcus Williams is playing the best football of his career at free safety. New Orleans also used two 2019 draft picks on safeties, a fourth round pick on Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and a sixth on Hampton. Coaches are high on Hampton’s potential after a solid preseason. Gardner-Johnson has already carved out an important role in the defense. Gardner-Johnson has shown the ability to cover receivers or tight ends in the slot, one of Bell’s duties, and is also a good fundamental tackler.
The Saints are not as deep at the cornerback position. P.J. Williams, who will also be a free agent, isn’t nearly as talented as either Lattimore or Apple and veteran Patrick Robinson has played poorly since rejoining the team last year. Cornerback is arguably the most important position in today’s game next to quarterback, and the Saints already have two proven talents at the starting corner spots.
5. Mickey Loomis/Saints Front Office
There was much speculation about Apple’s future in New Orleans this offseason when the team elected not to pick up the cornerback’s fifth year option on his rookie contract. It was a smart salary cap decision by General Manager Mickey Loomis and the front office. Apple’s contract would have escalated from a $2.5 million salary cap hit in 2019 to a hit of over $13.7 million in 2020 if they had exercised the option. The fourth year cornerback will earn far more than his current salary per year in his next contract , but Loomis is a proven master at manipulating the salary cap.
Other than the notable exception of running back Mark Ingram last offseason, the Saints have lost very few of their stars to free agency during the tenure of Head Coach Sean Payton. The team’s front office already inked two of its major stars, defensive end Cameron Jordan and wide receiver Michael Thomas, to lucrative extensions last offseason. They will also attempt to extend the deals of running back Alvin Kamara, Rankins, and linebacker Demario Davis before their contracts expire in 2021.
New Orleans has shown a commitment to keeping a talented nucleus together that has been one of the NFL’s top contenders over the last three seasons. One of those commitments should be to Eli Apple, who has been a vital part of a New Orleans defense that is one of the best in the league.