NFL News & Analysis

2017 Free Agency Preview: New Orleans Saints

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 11: Nick Fairley #90 of the New Orleans Saints looks on during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. Tampa Bay defeated New Orleans 16-11. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

What you need to know

The Saints are in a pretty good position with nearly $30 million in cap space and few of their own players to re-sign. They should have plenty of room to go after a top-tier free agent, or with New Orleans having big needs at a few positions, going after multiple second-tier players.

Salary cap room

$28,347,284 (19th in NFL; as of 2/28/2017)

Biggest needs

  • Defensive end
  • Guard
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker

Notable free agents

  • Nick Fairley, DI, 76.9 overall grade in 2016
  • Jahri Evans, G, 76.8
  • Sterling Moore, CB, 72.3
  • Tim Lelito, G, 70.5
  • W. Webb, CB, 65.3
  • Roman Harper, S, 48.6
  • Travaris Cadet, HB, 63.7
  • Darryl Tapp, Edge, 78.0
  • John Kuhn, FB, 79.7

Must re-sign

Nick Fairley, DI, 76.9 overall grade in 2016

Fairley’s run defense in 2016 was subpar and the worst of his career, but at this point the Saints need all the pass rush help they can get and cannot afford to lose their only other pass-rusher along the defensive line beyond Cameron Jordan.

Dream splash

Dont'a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots, 85.7

While there are higher-ranked edge defenders and guards in free agency, the Saints’ linebackers have been abysmal for several years. Hightower would be a huge upgrade who plays the run very well and could make an impact as a pass rusher. He’s not an ideal coverage linebacker, but if kept from having to cover large open spaces then he’s more than sufficient.

Top 2017 free agency prospects

Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati Bengals, 87.1

Both of the Saints’ starting guards are set to be free agents, and this is a strong guard class of free agents. Zeitler is our top-ranked offensive lineman on the market and at age 27 he should be in his prime for the length of a new contract.

Jabaal Sheard, Edge, New England Patriots, 79.6

New Orleans desperately needs a solid pass rusher opposite Cameron Jordan, and Sheard has had multiple seasons as a successful pass-rusher. He hasn’t put up as big of numbers as some of the other free agent edge defenders due to his somewhat limited role, but that may also hold his price tag down compared to the top-tier defenders.

Johnathan Hankins, DI, New York Giants, 47.1

If the Saints do not re-sign Fairley, Hankins may a reasonable option. Hankins is coming off the worst year of his career as he moved from 1-technique to 3-technique to accommodate the Giants’ signing of Damon Harrison and could potentially come at a bargain. With Sheldon Rankins at 3-tech, Hankins could find a home with the Saints back at 1-tech where he is more suited. Hankins is an average pass-rusher at best, but he would help solidify New Orleans’ run defense.

2017 Free Agency Rankings
Top 50 free agents
Every 2017 free agent ranked by 2016 overall grade
10 free agents who can make an immediate impact
10 veteran free agents worth a one-year contract
10 sleeper free agents who could bring surprise upside
10 splash free-agent signings we’d like to see
Quarterback rankings
Running back rankings
Wide receiver rankings
Tight end rankings
Offensive linemen rankings
Edge defender rankings
Interior defender rankings
Cornerback rankings
Safety rankings
Linebacker rankings
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