The New Orleans Saints are now only just a little over a month away from entering into this off-season’s Free Agency signing period, which officially will get under way at midnight on Wednesday, March 18th; although all 32 NFL teams can begin negotiating contracts with pending unrestricted free agents two days prior to that date, beginning on Monday, March 16th.
The Black and Gold will enter into the signing period with approximately anywhere between $15 and $22 million to spend, although their top #1 priority first will be to re-sign their very own key veteran free agents; which includes players such as strong safety Vonn Bell and defensive tackle David Onyemata; while they also try to save enough money towards the future in order to make new contract offers next year to superstar RB Alvin Kamara, #1 starting CB Marshon Lattimore and All-Pro offensive right tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
As a direct result of their current financial status, next month could see New Orleans take a somewhat more conservative approach to 2020 NFL Free Agency — while deciding to focus most of their energy on keeping their investments “in-house” and save most of their remaining money under the salary cap towards next year — instead of opting to shop for some brand new players on the open Free Agent market next month.
That said however, the Saints could also decide to explore the possibility of making offers to some players on the market that could be considered “bargains” financially; while also improving the overall talent on their current roster.
With that in mind, here are a few players that they could choose to target next month — and without being forced to overspend or invest a huge amount of money that would extend beyond their current financial budget.
Starting first with….
RANDALL COBB, WIDE RECEIVER, DALLAS COWBOYS
— NFL (@NFL) November 11, 2019
The 29-year old Cobb — who last season earned $5 million in the final year of his contract with Dallas — was the Cowboys’ 3rd-most productive receiver (55 catches, 828 yards, and 3 touchdown catches) behind All-Pro Amari Cooper and #2 WR Michael Gallup.
Those were decent numbers for a player who will turn age 30 right before the start of the 2020 NFL Season in September; but can still run a respectable 40-yard dash time of 4.46 seconds now some 8 years removed from being taken originally in the 2011 NFL Draft from the University of Kentucky football program, by the Green Bay Packers.
With the Saints desperately needing to add another play-maker at the WR position to ease the pressure of current superstar Michael Thomas, the pursuit of Cobb is certainly a viable option; since it’s unlikely that he would command any amount more money annually than what he was paid last season.
However, the biggest dilemma that would face the Saints in attempting to acquire his services; is the recent hiring a few weeks ago of Cobb’s mentor (and former head coach at Green Bay) Mike McCarthy; who was given a brand new 5-year deal by Dallas owner Jerry Jones to run their franchise.
How does #Cowboys WR Randall Cobb feel about Mike McCarthy. “He tells me I had 8 great years with Coach McCarthy. He played a big role in GB drafting me and found a way to get me involved early in my career on an offense with a lot of star power. “
— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) January 6, 2020
Given their notable past history together, it’s very possible as well that Cobb might presumably give the Cowboys a break or a proverbial “hometown discount” on his asking price, for the opportunity to work with his old boss once again.
But the Cowboys nevertheless might also opt to allow Cobb to chance to explore all of his options — and playing in the high-powered Saints offense under Sean Payton and alongside Thomas for the next few years, could end up proving quite tempting for him in the long run.
JAYRON KEARSE, CORNERBACK / SAFETY, MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Jayron Kearse records his first career interception to seal the 28-24 #Vikings victory as time expires.
— Vikings PR (@VikingsPR) November 11, 2019
As it’s been mentioned previously: the Saints are facing the possibility that 4th year veteran safety Vonn Bell — who most believe will re-sign / return to New Orleans — is still an unrestricted free agent himself next month and could possibly sign with another NFL team if he wants to.
Additionally, 3rd year free safety Marcus Williams is entering a contract year in 2020; and if he isn’t brought back or re-signed next off-season, it potentially could leave New Orleans in a bind down the line with rookie Chauncey-Gardner Johnson as the only leftover player at the position with experience.
But an option for the Black and Gold and at a reasonable price, could be Vikings 5th year safety / cornerback Jayron Kearse; whom Minnesota originally selected four years ago during the final / 7th round out of Clemson University in the 2016 NFL Draft.
At 6-foot-4, the 26-year old Kearse brings a very physical type of playing style to the football field; and with his bigger build and rather notable tenacious defensive mind-set, it makes him an intriguing (and cost-friendly) option for the Saints often-criticized but much-improved secondary.
While playing in the final year of his original 4-year rookie deal last season, Kearse only earned $720,000; and while he obviously will be looking to earn much more money in any potential new contract with another NFL team, he still should come at a reasonable amount.
With his versatility to play both the safety position as well as at CB / “nickelback” in pass coverage, the former high school and college All-American is thought to be seeking more playing time; and he could very well find it with Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen‘s defensive unit — especially if New Orleans can land him for the ‘right price’.
ERIC EBRON, TIGHT END, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Eric Ebron in 4 seasons with Lions: 11 Receiving TD
Eric Ebron in 11 games with Colts: 11 Receiving TD pic.twitter.com/WLHErWSYkP
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) November 26, 2018
Current Saints veteran tight end Jared Cook will be a free agent after this coming season (as well as approaching his mid-30’s age-wise) and while still playing at a very high level as part of the Saints receiving game, the position will still need to be addressed eventually; and this off-season might actually be the best time to go ahead and do so.
That’s where former Detroit Lions 1st Round 2014 NFL Draft pick (#10 overall) and University of North Carolina All-American TE (and current Indianapolis Colts star) Eric Ebron comes into the picture for the Black and Gold.
Ebron blossomed from being nothing more than a reserve player in Detroit during his first 4 seasons in the Motor City, into a bonafide offensive superstar with the Colts during the 2018 NFL Season two seasons ago; when he caught 66 passes for 750 receiving yards and a whopping 13 total touchdown receptions — a mostly unheard of amount of scores for the tight end position.
But the reason why Ebron shouldn’t be all that expensive in 2020 Free Agency next month are the lingering concerns that some are likely to have regarding his health; which was significantly impacted by the torn ACL that prematurely ended that phenomenal 2018 campaign; and then the tibial plateau fracture midway through last season in 2019, which landed him on injured reserve for the remainder of the year (Indy’s final 4 games). Additionally. Ebron underwent surgery on both ankles in December, and his recovery will obviously be the subject of much scrutiny.
Nevertheless, at 6-foot-4 and 253 pounds, Ebron essentially is like having an over-sized wide receiver because of his undeniable athleticism (when healthy) that clearly makes him as a big-bodied pass-catching threat who can inflict major damage upon most NFL defensive secondaries, in the red zone.
For the Saints, the biggest issue would be Ebron’s “asking price” — which as of right now is expected to be less than the $6.5 million that he made for the past two years in Indianapolis — as he will have to prove himself fully recovered from the variety of injuries that have many observers worried could potentially make him a free agent “bust” going forward.
With New Orleans presumably having a better shot than the Colts do at the moment at getting to the Super Bowl , it’s conceivable that giving the Saints a slight bargain for his services is an option that Ebron is likely to consider, at the very least.
BLAKE MARTINEZ, INSIDE LINEBACKER, GREEN BAY PACKERS
With two of their three starting inside linebackers (young veterans Alex Anzalone and Kiko Alonso) both coming off season-ending injuries, the Saints could definitely be looking to add much-needed depth at the position; and most likely through the upcoming NFL Draft — although signing one in Free Agency remains an intriguing possibility.
One interesting option in that regard for New Orleans would be Green Bay Packers 4th year veteran inside linebacker and former University of Stanford star Blake Martinez. The 26-year old is considered a legitimate “tackling machine” by many well-respected observers and analysts; and to that very point: Martinez has finished ranked 1st (2017), 2nd (2018) and then 2nd once again (2019) in total tackles for the past three NFL seasons.
That doesn’t even speak to his undeniable toughness; given the fact that Martinez played the second part of last season in 2019, with a broken bone in his hand. Despite that injury, he still managed to record three sacks, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception to his credit; along with 155 total tackles for the entire year.
It goes without saying that some team potentially could offer him a considerable amount more than the $2.025 million that the Packers paid him last season; although it shouldn’t come at anything that would be deemed as “unreasonable”.
Martinez is expected to command as much as $5 million per season on the open market — which still would be viewed as a bargain when taking into account his relatively-young age and production that he has had — all the way up to this current point in time.
ERECK FLOWERS, OFFENSIVE GUARD, WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Ereck Flowers with the Redskins so far (2 games):
– 123 snaps (100%)
– 0 sacks allowed
– Helped make way for 653 total yards
– Reportedly enjoys playing football again
He was meant to play left guard all along. pic.twitter.com/UTCAVlpHI4
— Skins offSZN ♫ (@TerryMcLaur1n) September 23, 2019
The Saints ultimately might decide to not re-sign / bring back current starter and 5th year veteran Andrus Peat — who after struggling at times with pass protection as well as being somewhat injury-prone over the course of the past few seasons — very likely won’t be coming back next season with the Black and Gold going forward, especially if they can find a suitable replacement.
One player that could be a viable option for the Black and Gold at Peat’s offensive left guard spot, is former New York Giants 1st Round 2015 NFL Draft pick (#9 overall) and University of Miami (FL) Hurricanes All-American (and now Washington Redskins) offensive lineman Ereck Flowers.
The 6-foot-6, 330 pound and soon-to-be 26-year old Flowers — who like Peat originally began his professional career as an offensive left tackle — has also similarly mirrored Peat in that he also has been criticized for not living up to the lofty expectations that come with being a high / Top 10 overall draft selection coming out of college.
Flowers left the Giants after 3 and a half seasons (New York released him in October of 2018) and then he ended up with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the remainder of that season; before he eventually signed last year in 2019 NFL Free Agency with the Redskins; where he then transitioned over to the offensive left guard position last summer during Washington’s Training Camp.
Much to his credit, Flowers was able to rejuvenate his once-failing NFL career; and many observers considered Flowers’ effort in 2019 to be markedly better than any of his previous seasons; with some analysts even labeling him as the Redskins’ very best and most consistent O-Lineman on the entire roster.
My gawd Flowers is a strong man! He can see AND feel Penn does not pick up this stunt and essentially blocks both defenders here…with one arm each! pic.twitter.com/VeJfqcZQnC
— Mark Tyler(Hogs Haven) (@Tiller56) December 24, 2019
Flowers played last season for a total of $3,2 million, and while he could command up to as much as $5 million per year, it’s considered likely that his asking price won’t exceed that amount.
With New England Patriots starting left guard / O-Lineman Joe Thuney expected to be the very best and most-sought after offensive lineman (possibly as much as a whopping $15 million per season) that the Saints would honestly love to put at that starting left guard spot, signing Flowers clearly would be a much cheaper and likely-more viable option to take over Peat’s old spot, for the next few seasons….
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius