2017 Free Agency Preview: New Orleans Saints

Top free agent targets for the New Orleans Saints, players that must be re-signed, team cap space, and more to get you ready for 2017 free agency.

| 3 months ago
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

2017 Free Agency Preview: New Orleans Saints

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

| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

  • Nick Cortez

    By cutting Byrd, Saints need 2 Safeties as well (1 Free, 1 Strong). Saints need to resign Moore and Lelito. They should go after a Guard and possibly Hightower as you mention. They could also go after an edge and CB, but I doubt it will be a top tier player at those positions due to their cap space compared to other teams with those same needs. If they can keep Fairly, they will..I just don’t know if they will be able to. Fairly could get 10M a year and the Saints likely can’t go that high and get the G and top defensive player(s) they want.

    • Nick Cortez

      Also, if they do trade Cooks, they will be looking for WRs, though likely in the 2nd – 4th rounds of the draft.

      • Nick Cortez

        I would have loved if y’all did a chart showing the current people on the roster for each position and starred the positions that are needs / wants. This would have displayed pretty easily that the Saints have only Peat and Kelemete at Guard right now (and K is not a starter) and Onyemeta, Davison, and Rankins at DT. This would have shown similar information on RB, S, and the defense needs better players / performances out of every position on the defense (edge, LB, and CB).

  • crosseyedlemon

    Gotta think there will be a major house cleaning down in the Bayou if the Saints don’t get the program turned around this off season.

    • Nick Cortez

      I think you are likely right about this. The only thing preventing it at this point is how tied Benson is to Mickey Loomis. Loomis still really believes in Payton, but another losing season may have Payton packing his bags.