Ouch. The New Orleans Saints took a series of gut punches to open free agency in 2023 when the legal manipulation period began Monday, losing defensive starters David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport and top backups like Kaden Elliss and Shy Tuttle. Individually they’re all interchangeable, but it’s a lot of change for the defensive line going into the offseason.
But the Saints were able to make some moves of their own in the days and weeks leading up to this, signing priority free agents like Juwan Johnson, JT Gray and Tanoh Kpassagnon while landing their first pick at quarterback in Derek Carr (and Agreeing to keep Jameis Winston as his replacement in the event of a pay cut).
How does all of this impact the Saints team’s needs to go deeper into the free hand? With the 2023 NFL draft on the horizon, it’s worth revisiting our list to get a sense of where this team needs to improve the most:
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The Saints have lost their top two players at that position in Onyemata and Tuttle, and at least one of their established backups (Malcolm Roach) wants to at least test the free-agent market before accepting the two-year deal he’s been offered. That leaves just one defensive tackle under the Saints for 2023: Prince Emili, who joined the practice squad in 2022 after playing 27 total snaps with the Buffalo Bills.
This is the easiest position for a new player on offense to immediately help out. All recipients will compete with Chris Olave (and Rashid Shaheed) for goals. There will be a new tight end behind Juwan Johnson. They’re set for quarterback. But fresh legs at the running back will have plenty of opportunity. Alvin Kamara has played his best football when paired with another capable runner and his potential six-game ban would give a new signing plenty of time to make a good impression.
It’s painful to list this position so high considering how many salary caps and premium draft picks have been invested in it. But Davenport’s loss is big — more importantly, it’s a mistake to fuel the bold trade to acquire him in 2018 that’s still being felt. The signing of Kpassagnon to support Cameron Jordan and Carl Granderson was smart, but this has to be a crucial season for Payton Turner. However, putting all your eggs in that one basket is worrying. Another addition would be useful.
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Olave was really impressive last year and he’s ready to make a big move if Derek Carr hurls the football. Shaheed has done well with a small sample size, but it takes a lot for him to do it against NFL defensemen every week. Even if Michael Thomas returns, his durability issues will require an investment on the part of the recipient. Right now, Tre’Quan Smith comes off the bench when the team goes four wide.
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The Saints have brought JT Gray back, but Justin Evans, PJ Williams and Daniel Sorensen remain free agents, and there’s room for one more security on the depth chart — preferably someone who can help guard the slot right away. Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye are both 30 and entering the second year of their three-year deal. It would make a lot of sense to land a rookie for the spot in 2023 and prepare to replace one of them in 2024.
The Saints just lost Elliss – why isn’t linebacker a higher priority? Dennis Allen’s schedule and penchant for Nickel staff are still the same, so no new linebacker will play ahead of Demario Davis and Pete Werner. They may not even play Zack Baun again after Elliss proved that a pass rusher that’s too small can win from the edge for the Saints. Keeping someone like Andrew Dowell would make sense for depth and specialty teams.
This will change depending on what happens to Andrus Peats’ contract. If he is unleashed, the Saints will suddenly have to fill a huge hole in the left guard. If he restructures his contract to stay on for another year they have proven they can play with him on the left, Cesar Ruiz on the right and Calvin Throckmorton in back cover (with Lewis Kidd coming off the bench). be able to win. But this is an area that could be improved either way.
Johnson’s signing was a big win for the Saints, but their work doesn’t stop there. It would make sense for them to make Adam Trautman a blocking-only role on the depth chart. Whether that means signing a more dynamic veteran in free agency or picking one of the exciting young prospects in this year’s draft, the Saints have options to choose from. Finding someone with real run blocking skills and trustworthy hands on contested catches would be ideal.
Neither of these positions should have priority in free agency or draft, but there are arguments for strengthening them in one way or another:
- Offensive tackle
- corner back
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