2020 Saints Free Agency: Analyzing Each In House Free Agent In New Orleans
The 2019 New Orleans Saints season ended sooner than anyone in the organization had hoped, but not they must turn the page to 2020.
Here's a rundown of Saints players set to become free agents, along with their FA designation, with analysis on some of the decisions facing the New Orleans front office this spring.
In total, the Saints have 30 players whose contracts end at the duration of the current league year, making them free agents (FAs). Not all FAs are created equal, as three different FA categories carry three different designations.
Per the NFL, here's the explanation of each.
Exclusive rights free agent (ERFA): Any player with fewer than three accrued seasons and an expired contract. If his original team offers him a one-year contract and the league minimum (based on his credited seasons), the player cannot negotiate with other teams.
An ERFA has no negotiating power other than a holdout. It's extremely rare for an ERFA to have a strong enough resume to do so, as they tend to be guys at the back end of the 53 man roster and not an indispensable piece. An ERFA usually has no leverage.
The Saints have 6 ERFAs to consider. Special teamer J.T. Gray, wide receivers Keith Kirkwood and Lil'Jordan Humphrey, defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth, fullback Ricky Ortiz, and linebacker Colton Jumper.
J.T. Gray is the only lock, but being the Saints hold the leverage and all players can be on the training camp and preseason roster on a one-year deal at the league minimum, Kirkwood, Humphrey, and Stallworth will likely sign as well.
Restricted free agent (RFA): A player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, but their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers ("tenders") that come with the Right of First Refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. These amounts change by a minimum of 5 percent and a maximum of 10 percent (based on the salary cap) each League Year. Teams must submit these tenders before 4 p.m. ET on March 13.
There are four tenders for an RFA. 1st round, 2nd round, original round or right-of-first-refusal.
In lamen terms, if the Saints designate one of their RFAs with a 1st round tender, another team hoping to sign said player would have to make an offer the Saints decided not to match, and also give a 1st round draft pick to the Saints. A 1st round tender by the Saints would pay a RFA $4.407 million or 110 percent of the player's prior-year base salary. The 2nd round tender is less, followed by the original round tender and ROFR tender.
Athlete Taysom Hill, long snapper Zach Wood, wide receivers Austin Carr and Krishawn Hogan, special teamer Justin Hardee and offensive lineman Cameron Tom are the RFAs.
Hill is the most unique, as he plays multiple positions, but is listed as a quarterback. He'll also be 30 years old next season. What's his market value around the league?
"It's a little bit of an enigma," Payton said yesterday of Hill's market value. "I mean, my understanding is you can't find a spot for him on your fantasy roster, so it's probably a difficult reality."
Expect Hill back with the Saints in 2020. The only question is will it be a 2nd-round tender, or do the Saints try to save a little money and risk putting a ROFR tender on him (Hill was undrafted in 2017, therefore cannot receiver an Original Round tender). Under the later scenario, the chances of another team making him an offer rise. If the Saints elect to offer him a 2nd-round tender, odds are Hill won't receive an offer outside of Airline Drive in Metarie.
Wood, Hardee and Tom should all return on one-year ROFR tenders at the league minimum.
Unrestricted free agent (UFA): Any player with four or more accrued seasons and an expired contract; free to negotiate and sign with any team.
No need for further explanation on UFAs.
The Saints have a lot, including some big names.
Quarterbacks Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater, safeties Vonn Bell and D.J. Swearinger, cornerbacks Eli Apple, P.J. Williams, and Johnson Bademosi, guards Andrus Peat and Patrick Omameh, linebackers A.J. Klein, Manti Te'o, Stephone Anthony and Josh Martin, defensive tackle David Onyemata, wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., fullback Zach Line, running back Dwayne Washington and defensive end Noah Spence.
Most notable are Brees and Bridgewater. The fanbase believes Brees wants to play next season at 41 years old, though he said after last Sunday's loss he would "get away" in the coming weeks and think about his future. Bridgewater led the Saints to a 5-0 record in the early half of the season while Brees was out following surgery on his injured thumb. Through Hill into the mix, who's technically a backup quarterback, and the most important position on the field is clearly the most important topic in New Orleans 2020 free agency when considering the future of the team.
I expect Brees back at age 41. Sean Payton knows Bridgewater, 27, can be his QB of the future. He also knows it'll be difficult to keep both.
Does Teddy sign a long-term deal with the Saints, not knowing if Brees will return following 2020?
Bridgewater will get a strong offer from a team willing to make him their starting quarterback next season. Does he pass up another year of an assured starting QB role?
I think Payton and GM Mickey Loomis will find a way to make it work. Assuming Brees does come back, do you let a future starter who went 5-0 in 2019 walk out the door? And if you do, how far back does it set you at square one when Brees does retire?
Bell is coming off his best season as a pro, and would likely get a sizable offer on the open market, though the Saints would love to have him back.
Peat receives criticism from the fanbase, but has a Pro Bowl on his resume (2018), and should have multiple offers. The criticism isn't always unwarranted, so New Orleans may look to fill the left guard void with a cheaper option in FA or the draft. It's also not out of the question the Saints spend big on another guard in FA, especially if Brees returns, which is likely. Interior defensive pressure has given Brees issues throughout his career, and the Saints have historically invested heavily at the guard position as a result.
Similar to Peat, Apple received criticism from fans during a tough three weeks stretch late in the season, but for the majority of his time with the team over the last season and a half, has been solid. He'll likely receive an offer from New Orleans, especially if the Saints release Janoris Jenkins (acquired off waivers three weeks ago), who is due over $11 million next season.
Klein is coming off his best season in New Orleans. While he struggled in pass coverage, he was superb against the run. At 28 years old, I expect the Saints to keep him, as his market value around the league is unlikely to price him out of the Saints budget.
At 27, Onyemata has polished his game from entering the league as a raw product in 2016. While the Saints likely want to keep him on a fair deal, he still possesses big upside, which could lead to an opposing team throwing a huge contract offer his way, something New Orleans is unlikely to do.
Line and Washington will likely return on modest deals as league interest won't be high for either. Payton likes to keep one fullback, and Washington's special teams value makes for an easy decision to keep him.
Any FA listed who I haven't mentioned in regards to the decision facing the team, I do not expect to return.
The 2020 league year and free agency period begin at 3 p.m. on March 18th, while legal tampering (negotiating) beings on March 16th at 3 p.m.