The 2018 NFL Free Agency signing period officially begins on March 14th, and this year's signing period should give the New Orleans Saints even more opportunities to further strengthen their current "core" group of players already in place, that led them to an 11-5 record and a NFC South Division title in the 2017 season.
Among the current 2018 Free Agents that could be potential Saints "targets":
Patriots CB Malcom Butler, Panthers DT Star Lotulelei, Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, Giants guard Justin Pugh, Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry, Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah, Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, 49ers safety Eric Reid, Eagles LB Nigel Bradham, and Raiders DT Justin Ellis, to name a few.
This morning as Saints fans are still getting over the huge disappointment of the last-second loss to Minnesota in this past weekend's Divisional Playoff round, here at Saints News Network we're "moving on" — and taking a look at the ways that the Saints can further IMPROVE their current team, and make them an even stronger threat to win a Super Bowl for many years to come.
With that in mind, here are 5 players that the Saints should at the very least should give consideration to signing, when Free Agency "officially" gets underway at 12:01 midnight on Wednesday, March 14th.......
Jarvis Landry, WIDE RECEIVER, Miami Dolphins
The Saints could entice the 25-year old Landry, who starred as a high school All-American WR for Lutcher High School and then played collegiately at LSU, with the chance to come back "home" — as well as an opportunity to play for a winning team and also get to team up with a future Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees.
Miami can head off any drama by working out an agreement before free agency opens on March 14th and it has the option to franchise/transition tag him, which would bring him back for one year; but the relationship between Landry and Dolphins management hasn't exactly been the greatest, and the team doesn't seem all that inspired to shell out the $15-16 mill a year that the Convent, La. native will likely be seeking.
This past season, Landry led the NFL in receptions (112 catches) for 987 yards and 9 TD's. In his 4-year NFL career thus far, Landry has caught exactly 400 passes for 4,038 yards and 22 TD's. And an added bonus if the Saints were to sign him: he's an outstanding punt and kick returner, too.
Landry's 400 catches during his first 4 NFL seasons are more than anyone ever, and he'll end up owning the record for most catches after five seasons because he’s only 26 catches away from setting that mark. Additionally, he's now a two-time Pro Bowl selection and believes he’s worth every penny of what his agent has already told the Dolphins he wants.
For the Saints, it would simply come down to how much money they're willing to pony up for a player who would likely become the designated "slot receiver" in the Saints offense and serve as a complement to #1 WR Michael Thomas.
Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, DEFENSIVE END, Detroit Lions
The Lions chose the 28-year old Ansah (he turns 29 in May) out of BYU with the 5th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and he produced immediately with 32 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles in 14 games as a rookie.
He then followed up his rookie season with a phenomenal 2nd season that included a career-high 14 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2015. In 2016, he had only two sacks in 13 games, dealing with an ankle injury for much of the season.
Then there was last year in 2017, where Ansah had an "up-and-down" 2017 season while producing six of his 12 sacks in the final two games of the year. He finished with 44 tackles and a forced fumble in 14 games, spending much of the season on the injury report with knee and back injuries.
The Lions still have the option of placing the Franchise Tag on Ansah for around $18 million, but should Detroit decide to let Ansah walk, he will have plenty of suitors; and for a Saints defensive line always seeking to boost its pass rush capabilities, Ansah (provided he stays healthy) would fit nicely in NOLA with his 36 and a half sacks in 5 NFL seasons.
Lamarcus Joyner, SAFETY, Los Angeles Rams
Joyner thrived for the Rams in 2017 after long-time NFL defensive "guru" and new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips was hired by new head coach Sean McVay and immediately moved Joyner from CB to safety; and the 27-year old former Florida State All-American became part of an outstanding safety duo in the Los Angeles secondary along with rookie John Johnson.
Joyner finished the season as Pro Football Focus’s 4th-highest graded safety, and NFL.com's "Around the NFL" writer Greg Rosenthal noted the other day that Phillips knew just how to maximize Joyner as a safety / cornerback hybrid who loves to hit and can cover the slot. Joyner was tied for the team lead in interceptions with (3) of them, and made 49 total tackles and forced a fumble as part of the Rams aggressive and hard-hitting defensive backfield.
Joyner was considered to be the Rams 2nd best defensive back right behind starting #1 CB Trumaine Johnson, who will also be a free agent this off-season. While the Rams likely will try to bring both players back if they can manage to afford it, both can demand large salaries and it leaves the possibility open for Joyner to take his talents elsewhere.
There are a lot of teams looking for a player just like Joyner, and with the uncertainty at the moment of whether or not the Saints intend to re-sign starting free safety Kenny Vaccaro, a pursuit of Joyner by the Saints would certainly seem to be one that's worthwhile of making.
Nigel Bradham, LINEBACKER, Philadelphia Eagles
If you were to ask any current NFL analyst about which position on the Saints' current team roster should be the #1 off-season priority for them to improve at, the large majority would likely say it's the LB position; where starter A.J. Klein and Craig Robertson and back-up Mantai Te'o are good players, but aren't exactly what you'd label as "game changers" at those spots.
There's also rookie Alex Anzalone, who has a ton of talent and ability but so far is an unproven commodity after the Saints 3rd Round draft pick in 2017 out of the University of Florida; was lost for the season with a shoulder injury back in Week #4 in London, England against the Dolphins.
Unfortunately for New Orleans, there's "slim pickings" at the linebacker position in 2018 Free Agency, making the likelihood that the Saints will draft another linebacker almost a certainty at this point.
The notable exception? Philadephia Eagles three-down linebacker Nigel Bradham, who will turn 29 next season. Bradham led Philadelphia's resurgent defense in the 2017 regular season with 88 tackles, along with eight passes defended and a sack, which was preceded by his 2016 season in which the 28-year-old led the team in tackles with 102.
Bleacher Report writer NFL writer Steven Cook says that the Eagles have gotten everything they wanted and then some from Bradham since he arrived from Buffalo as a free agent, prior to the 2016 season. Now comes the tough prospect of figuring out how they can keep him.
Bradham signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Eagles in 2016, per Over The Cap, on a contract that escalated to a $4.75 million cap hit this season. Simply put, Cooks says that Bradham's been a "steal" for Philadelphia and has thrived since the loss of teammate Jordan Hicks, sliding into the middle linebacker role and mastering it.
Just like last off-season, Cook adds that the Eagles face the perilous prospect of navigating their many big-money contracts to come in below the salary cap, and it will be difficult to bring Bradham down to a number that works for both him and the Eagles.
Would the Saints consider giving the former Florida State star an offer he simply couldn't refuse and further bolster the team's LB depth? Or will they rather go the way of the NFL Draft, which has obviously worked out very well for them in the past 2 years and has allowed them to build the current nucleus of their talented young team?
That question will be answered in the upcoming months and weeks ahead, although a player of Bradham's caliber and unquestioned capability gives the Saints another available option at one of the team's weakest positions.
Kirk Cousins, QUARTERBACK, Washington Redskins
Saints QB Drew Brees is also a Free Agent himself now of course, although after his comments following the Playoff loss at Minnesota, there's no reason to suspect that the 39-year old won't re-sign with the Saints for one last final contract that should take him up to the point of his final NFL season (2019? 2020?) and eventual retirement.
Brees quite obviously has a "few good years left" in him, which was proven once again after he went for 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns with a 103.9 passer rating last season, and almost got the Saints to another NFC Championship Game in his 12th season with the franchise.
But from the Saints' perspective, the question now suddenly becomes: "HOW LONG does Brees actually have left?"
As we've seen time and time again in the past from previous elite NFL QB's who reach this age, they usually have a sudden and STEEP "drop-off" physically once they reach the 40-year old mark (Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in the most recent years, although soon-to-be 41 year old Tom Brady continues to fight and defy the odds).
So if the Saints do in fact re-sign Brees for one final contract, they are risking the chance that Brees could experience that "drop-off" sooner rather than later.
Or......the Saints could explore the possibility of a "Plan B", which would be the pursuit of this year's top available free agent QB (assuming the 49ers place the Franchise Tag on Jimmy Garoppolo as expected) currently on the market in Redskins QB Kirk Cousins.
Cousins would cost Washington about $34 million if they were to tag him a 3rd time as they did last year and the year before, so it's pretty unlikely that he'll be a Redskin in 2018. Franchising any NFL player for a 3rd consecutive year means that they automatically get a 44 percent increase from their salary the previous year, which was $27 million for Cousins in 2017.
Cousins just became the first quarterback in Redskins history to put up 4,000-plus yards in three consecutive seasons. He's seen as a franchise-type quarterback around the League, having tossed 81 touchdowns compared to 36 interceptions during that three-year span.
The question simply for the Saints will be:
Do they believe Brees can continue playing at a high enough level for the next 2-3 (maybe 4?) years to make it worthwhile to pass up a player like Cousins?
Is it better to sign a free-agent (albeit an expensive one) with Cousins' capability to set your franchise up at the QB position for the next decade, just like they did with Brees himself back in 2006 Free Agency?
That's something that we'll all find out the answer to, in due time..........