Saints 2021 Free Agents, who stays, who goes

January 11, 2022

With the Saints 2021 regular season officially over, the first step in the offseason is resigning free agents. The Saints are currently $62 million over the cap, so they won’t be able to re-sign everyone, but getting under the cap won’t be a huge hassle this offseason and they don’t really have to release anyone. Obviously there will be some guys who are just meant to be cut or play somewhere else which will ultimately help the Saints get some more cap space. The main point is that this offseason won’t be as gut wrenching as last offseason’s cuts. 

We’re not here to talk about cap space right now, we’re here to talk about the Saints free agents. 

One of the most important things that the Saints need to do this offseason is keep this Saints defensive group together. It would be dumb to not bring back the three defensive starters who are free agents along with the two big depth players who played a pretty big role in the defense this season. 

The team will give it some time before starting up negotiations with players, but Sean Payton mentioned that the team will discuss the future of players in about three to four weeks. This doesn’t include the practice squad players the team resigned to future/reserve deals. 

Before we dive into the free agents, it’s important to know the difference between UFA’s, RFA’s, ERFA’s, and SFA’s.

An unrestricted free agent, is a free agent who is able to sign with any team once/if they hit the open market. The Saints will have a window where they can get deals done and put offers on the table prior to free agency, but once free agency hits those unrestricted free agents have the freedom to sign anywhere if a deal isn’t agreed upon between the player and the  Saints. So, for example Marcus Williams and the Saints could be negotiating, and the Saints give him an offer. Williams doesn’t have to sign it and could hit the open market if he felt he was valued higher elsewhere and negotiate with other teams. He could then make a decision on where he ends up. 

Restricted free agents are free agents who have had three seasons with a team with an expired contract. So, the current RFA’s on the Saints were rookies in 2019. These free agents have the freedom to negotiate and sign with any team that appeals to them, however their original team (in this case the Saints) can offer them one of various qualifying offers (tenders) that come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. So, the Saints could try to match or one up the other teams offer to one of their restricted free agents. When Willie Snead left, the Raven gave him an offer, and the Saints didn’t match it, so he became a Raven. That’s how RFA’s work. 

An exclusive rights free agent is a player with less than three seasons with an expired contract. If the player’s original team (in this case the Saints) offers one of their ERFA’s a one year deal with a league minimum base salary, then that player cannot negotiate with other teams. If they don’t sign the team’s offer, they have to sit out. Street free agents are free agents who signed with the team and were under contract, but did not finish the season on the active roster. They are free to sign with any team.  

Unrestricted free agents

Terron Armstead, after a frustrating 2021 season for the left tackle it will be hard to maintain Terron Armstead. It will essentially come down to keeping Armstead or Marcus Williams. With only playing eight games in 2021, Armstead’s value for the team is at a low right now. However, after a struggling year for the Saints offensive line, the Saints front office could still have high value on Armstead after one of their least productive seasons on the line in recent years. I don’t believe that Armstead will get a big contract with the Saints, but I do believe he wants to stay in New Orleans. If the two could agree on a team friendly deal that appeals to both sides then I’m all for it. Other than a team friendly deal, Armstead has to go, there is no other way. It would be surprising if the Saints gave Armstead a big payday. 

Marcus Williams, a must keep player for the Saints. Marcus Williams deserves a big payday, after not getting one last season and getting franchise tagged. Like I already mentioned, it’ll likely come down to Armstead or Marcus Williams, and I’m all for the Saints making Marcus Williams the priority. Retaining Marcus Williams is key to keeping this defensive group together for another year. 

Jameis Winston, this is where it gets tricky for the Saints. If the Saints don’t re-sign Jameis because they plan to pursue Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, and it doesn’t work out, the team is left with Taysom Hill and Ian Book on the roster with drafting a quarterback as a priority. Re-signing Jameis isn’t guaranteed either, Jameis can get a starting job for another team for more money than he would in New Orleans. The Steelers, Broncos, Washington, Panthers and a few other teams are looking for a quarterback and Jameis could get a similar contract to what Teddy Bridgewater got with the Panthers with any of these quarterback needy teams. So if the Saints want Jameis back a deal needs to get done before another team gets the chance to swoop in. Coming off an ACL injury also helps the Saints a little bit in retaining Winston for another year or so while their teams may be on the fence about it. I’m all for the Saints resigning Jameis Winston and running it back for another year with a real offense. 

P.J. Williams, years of signing one year extensions with the Saints, it’s finally time to give P.J Williams a long extension. Williams provides so much depth to the defense at safety, slot corner, and outside corner with the ability to play in the box. The team gets essentially four players in one. Williams is a must keep and I believe the Saints have that same view as well. There wasn’t one game he played where it felt like he didn’t make a big play. An extension for the next two to three years would be ideal for Williams and the team long term. 

Kwon Alexander, one of the big names and creators of the Juice Boyzz, one of the energizers of the team and fun players to watch. Coming off a torn Achilles, Kwon Alexander balled out this season. When watching any Saints game, you could see the impact that Kwon Alexander has on the defense and team. Sean Payton speaks highly of Alexander and it would be very surprising if the Saints don’t bring Alexander back. The front office has to keep the defense together and Kwon Alexander must resign to keep this defense elite. A similar deal to last year would be an expectation, a one year deal and if he plays he gets the incentives, if not the risk isn’t bad. 

Dwayne Washington, the Saints the past few seasons have brought back Washington due to his solid special teams performance, I don’t think this year will be any different. Washington is a good contributor to the special teams and the Saints view him as a valuable asset to the team. 

Ty Montgomery, as a weapon Ty Montgomery is good for depth, but not as a starter. If players go down he’s a good asset to step in and take over because he can play both receiver and running back. With that, I believe the Saints view Montgomery as more of an important piece to the special teams more than anything. After the departure of special teams ace Justin Hardee, Ty Montgomery filled in on the opposite side of J.t Gray and did an excellent job filling in for Hardee totaling 10 special teams tackles. When Deonte Harty was injured or on suspension, Montgomery took over at returner as well. I think the Saints will value the things Montgomery did this season and bring him back on a one year deal. 

Jeff Heath, a player who surprised a lot of people by making the roster this past year and mainly contributed to special teams. Totaling 12 tackles and one sack, Heath was a nice asset to have to the team. I would believe that the Saints bring him back simply because of his special teams contributions. Likely just a short term, one year deal.

Trevor Siemian, the emergency quarterback who stepped up twice this season, once against the Bucs and once against the Falcons in the season finale. I could see the Saints bringing Siemian back simply to let Ian Book develop better. Taysom won’t be the starter, neither will Book or Siemian. So whoever the starter is, will be backuped by Siemian on GameDay with Hill possibly playing his gadget role and Ian Book being a GameDay inactive similar to this season. 

Jalyn Holmes, a good depth player. Good at stopping the run, pass rushing abilities weren’t the best. I would say the Saints let Holmes go, and if something happens like an injury or the depth is thin at the line, then we see an appearance in July or August. 

Tre’Quan Smith, this is a difficult one, Smith has shown flashes of high upside and potential, but his availability and consistency is not ideal is one way to put it. The Saints could possibly pick up Smith’s fifth year option and give him another chance to show his skills. I do believe that the Saints front office brings Smith back on a short deal. 

Jordan Mills, a good depth player and practice squad player on the offensive line. With some experience and development definitely could have a shot at being a backup on the roster this year as opposed to a practice squad guy. I’d say the Saints bring him back on a short term deal. 

James Carpenter, a mid season signing and someone I don’t think the Saints bring back. They’ll look for younger talent on the offensive line to backup their starters. 

Kenny Stills, I don’t think I have to do much explaining. Kenny Stills is going to go. 

Caleb Benenoch, a guy who had a decent camp, but wasn’t good when playing. The Saints could see something there that could be beneficial with some more experience and development. This one could go either way, I’d bring him back short term and keep him as a practice squad guy. 

Ken Crawley, no matter what happens Crawley will end up on this roster at some point again. The Saints probably bring him back again on a veteran minimum deal for one year. 

Christian Ringo, showed some promise and had some standout plays. The interior defensive line is thin, and Ringo is someone who will benefit from more experience and training camp. I would completely agree for the Saints to bring him back on a cheap short term deal. 

Restricted free agents

Garrett Griffin, the Saints like Griffin and what he’s done for the team. They probably bring him back simply due to his time with the team. Could go either way, wouldn’t matter much if he stayed or left. 

Shy Tuttle, with the interior defensive line pretty thin, Tuttle provides some reassurance. He’s been with the team and has had flashes of production. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints brought him back or let him go. I’d think the team is leaning more towards bringing him back. 

Carl Granderson, a very good depth player on the defensive line as an edge rusher. Really good pass rushing ability and could develop better run stuffing attributes. The Saints should definitely bring Granderson back and keep the edge pass rushers on a rotation. 

Deonte Harty (Harris), an easy one, it’s as simple as resign him. One of the best returners in the league, had a productive year on offense. The Saints want Deonte back and I’m sure he wants to be back. 

Ethan Greenidge, this is one I can’t have any judgement on. This is one the front office will have to judge based on the evaluation of him from training camp last year and his development and growth over the season. Could go either way, I’d say he goes and the Saints bring him back later on in the year if needed.

Brett Maher, performed the best of all the Saints temporary kickers. He did a good job while he was here, but he’s out. Wil Lutz is returning and there is no point in keeping him. 

Lil’Jordan Humphrey, when it was his moment he showed flashes of skill and production, just needs to be consistent and get opportunities. There definitely is talent there. Saints probably bring him back to be a practice squad guy or someone who gets elevated when the team is short handed. 

Exclusive rights free agent(s) 

Juwan Johnson, a player who could use another year or two to fully get into the rhythm of things. With some more time Johsnon could have a critical role as a receiving tight end in the Sean Payton system. I think the front office evaluated Johnson as someone who should come back on a short term contract. 

Jalen Dalton, same situation as Ethan Greenidge. I can’t say, it’s something the front office has to evaluate and determine based on last year’s training camp and this season’s development as a player. 

Albert Huggins, played decently in the games he was active in. Good run stuffer not the best pass rusher. I don’t think the Saints bring him back, I think they target a defensive tackle in free agency or the draft. Albert Huggins probably goes. If they need depth later on, then the team probably gives him a call. 

Street free agents 

Blake Bortles, just as simple as no. He was on the roster because of Covid protocols. 

Jordan Miller, I don’t think Miller comes back. Can’t say much. As simple as there isn’t enough to evaluate him to bring him back. 

Written By Kadin Janisch

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