For better or worse, the 2019 NFL Off-Season has arrived for fans of the New Orleans Saints; and while some Who Dats are only worried about the team re-signing its own key veteran Free Agents (like RB Mark Ingram), it’s a process which includes the pursuit of new players for their roster for next season; beginning first with 2019 NFL Free Agency — which officially gets underway on March 13th.
While it is true that signing and retaining their very own key players is undoubtedly their top priority, the general consensus among those covering the team on a daily basis is that the Black and Gold’s very next priority immediately after that would be to add another “weapon” to their offense; since teams were successful defensively against the Saints offense whenever either superstar RB Alvin Kamara or WR Michael Thomas were limited or simply were “shut down.”
The Saints receiving game was virtually non-existent throughout the entire 2018 Season, outside of Thomas; and with veteran WR’s Cam Meredith (knee) Dez Bryant (torn Achilles tendon), and Ted Ginn, Jr. (knee) all ending up on injured reserve, the receiving game for New Orleans struggled mightily at times.
Although Saints QB Drew Brees and the offense did manage to squeeze some minor production from rookie 3rd Round 2018 Draft pick Tre’Quan Smith and undrafted rookie Keith Kirkwood, neither of those two youngsters were striking fear into the hearts of their opponents.
The bitter-sweet reality is that Brees could potentially be playing in his final season in 2019 (maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t just yet), and the Saints need to not only just think about next season, but for the next several seasons into the future, whether Brees retires or not.
The Saints would be wise to target a WR in Free Agency that could be that complementary WR to Thomas, but they probably don’t want to spend a whole lot of money to do it as they enter this Off-Season with about $7 million to $11 million in salary-cap space.
Which is exactly why New Orleans team brass (i.e., GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton) should consider targeting a player such as Los Angeles Chargers free-agent wide receiver Tyrell Williams — who would make the ideal receiver to put in a complementary role opposite of Thomas.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, the 26-year old Williams generally lines up in the designated “slot” position; but is often able to utilize his unique blend of size and speed to his distinct advantage as an “X” (a.k.a. “split end”) or a “Y” receiver (a.k.a. “flanker”) for the resurgent Chargers last season.
Williams has shown a knack for making “big plays” in critical moments, and last season with the rejuvenated Bolts caught 41 passes for 653 yards and 5 TD’s, and that was while he was actually their #3 WR behind starters Keenan Allen and Mike Williams in the Chargers offense.
In his 4-year NFL career, Williams has played in 52 games (37 starts) and has caught 155 receptions (258 targets) for 2,530 yards and 17 TDs. The Salem, Oregon native hasn’t missed a single game in the past 3 seasons; and last year his main specialty was “taking the top off” of opposing defenses.
That’s exactly what the Saints need heading into 2019, especially with Ginn about to turn age 34 in April. Which is exactly why the Chargers’ little-known #3 wide receiver should be considered one of the most exciting, underrated Free Agent targets for Sean Payton and his staff this Off-Season.
The undrafted (2015) former small school “superstar” from Western Oregon University is just now entering into the prime of his young career, and the thought of the Black and Gold signing him and putting him next to Thomas along with contributions from the youngsters Tre’Quan and Kirkwood could potentially leave the Saints WR corps in good shape heading into the future — regardless of how much longer Brees does (or doesn’t) decide to stick around.
Williams just 2 weeks ago told ESPN beat writer Eric D. Williams that he believes that he could even be a team’s #1 WR if he were asked to do so.
“I definitely feel like I’m a No. 1 receiver,” Williams said as the entire Chargers team were cleaning out their lockers at the franchise’s Costa Mesa Training Facility. “So I want to make sure that I clean up all of the little things in route running and blocking, to make sure I solidify myself as a No. 1.”
“This past year, his game had already been solid, and he kind of took it to the next level this year,” Chargers GM manager Tom Telesco said to reporter afterwards. “He’s certainly earned his second contract. Those are discussions we have to have, but I just don’t have hard answers at this point in the Off-Season.”
Translation: we’d love to re-sign him, but we simply just can’t afford to pay everybody that we need to.
According to the good folks over at ESPN Stats & Information research, the Chargers have $22.8 million in salary cap space, which puts them in the bottom half of the League.
If that is indeed the case (which you can safely assume that it is), then the Saints definitely should be one of the teams pursuing Williams as we draw ever so closer to next month’s signing period.
ESPN notes that Los Angeles would like to have Williams back, but the price tag might be a little too steep for them. As it is: they add that the Chargers already have a replacement for Williams on their roster in big-bodied receiver Mike Williams (no relation), the former Clemson University All-American WR who had a “break-out” season last year.
Reportedly Williams has considered returning close to home (Oregon) by signing with the Seattle Seahawks; or joining his former wide receivers coach with the Chargers (Nick Sirianni). who is now the offensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts.
But clearly if the Saints have any designs on “finishing off” what they started and making a Super Bowl run before Brees retires, then finding a player with the capability to come in and give the Saints offense exactly what it needs the most (besides a starting, pass-catching #1 tight end) in Williams, would give them an immediate upgrade and a player capable of being a difference-maker that they sorely missed last season.
Sure they’ll have to get a little creative under the salary cap (and have a few willing veterans restructure some of their existing contracts to free up additional money), but we already know that Loomis (and Saints salary cap “expert” and Director of Administration Khai Harley) always seems to find a way to get it done.