Potential 2019 free agent options for Saints
It may be time move on as a Saints fan from the painful “no call” that helped end Super Bowl dreams. It’s time to focus on the future.
The Saints will enter into free agency soon with a decent amount of salary cap cash to spend. The organization will not only look to replace in some spots but also hope to upgrade. Some current players will seek new locations. It’s part of the business.
Here are just a few names I suspect the front office on Airline will consider. Some of these free agents are upper tier options, while others are prospects who, under the right scheme and conditions, could flourish in New Orleans. As you know, quality depth is vital to be successful in the NFL.
Wide receiver is a spot that the Saints will almost certainly look to upgrade. There is uncertainty there moving forward so a veteran option to help All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas makes sense.
Tyrell Williams has tallied 155 catches for 2,530 yards and 17 scores for his career, all with the Chargers. He totaled 69 grabs in 2016 for 1,059 yards and seven scores but his numbers took a dip this past season when he managed 41 catches for 653 yards and 5 touchdowns. The 26-year old earned $2,914,000 in ’18 and is considering a new location after the crowded L.A. depth chart experience.
Justin Hardy is an interesting player. Grabbed in the 4th round in 2015, the 5-10 receiver is not a blazer (4.56 speed) but is crafty. He doubles as a kick return option. Hardy is buried in Atlanta behind Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu. Although he has totaled 76 grabs for 751 yards and four scores during his four-year tenure in the league, Hardy’s output was disappointing this past season with 14 grabs for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Justin Hunter has spent six years in the NFL (85 catches, 1,349 yards and 13 touchdowns) but the 6-4 talent injured his shoulder in week 13 this season with the Steelers. He has played in 60 games with 19 starts but he has not met expectations.
A former Tennessee Vols standout, Hunter is very athletic and a world class long jumper, having represented the U.S. in the IAAF World Junior Championships. He inked a one-year, $870,000 deal with a $30,000 bonus in ’18 after stints with the Titans, Dolphins and Bills. His production was down this season and he would not be a feature receiver. However, if anyone can help him find a niche’ in the NFL, it could be Sean Payton.
Adam Humphries is another story, an over-achiever who not only went undrafted out of Clemson but was not even invited to the NFL Combine. The 5-11 slot receiver has 219 career catches for 2,329 yards and nine scores as a steady option for the Bucs. In 2018, he had 76 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns. The soon-to-be 26 year old is worthy of a long look.
Meanwhile, Ben Watson is hanging up his cleats so the Saints will perhaps look to the draft to shore up the tight end position. Most agree that an upgrade is needed.
Best known for a controversial catch (or in his case, a no catch) against the Patriots in 2017, Jesse James has a bit of a cult following in Pittsburgh. During his four years with the Steelers, the 6-7 James has garnered 120 catches for 1,189 yards and 9 touchdowns. The 24-year old had moderate success in ’18 with 30 grabs for 423 yards and a pair of scores. He may not command mega bucks but could have great upside. It may be tough to pry him out of an area where he played high school, college (Penn State) and the NFL.
Maxx Williams has good size (6-4, 252) and hands. His four years in the NFL with the Ravens have produced 63 catches, 497 yards and three touchdowns but only 16 grabs for 143 yards and a score this past year. He had knee surgery in 2016 which slowed his career arc. He has fallen behind in Baltimore in favor of 2018 draft picks Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews so he may be looking for a fresh start. His dad played in the NFL with the Giants and his grandfather with the Bears.
One intriguing prospect is the relatively unknown Demetrius Harris. At 6-7 and 230 pounds, the 28-year old went undrafted out of Wisconsin-Milwaukee but made it with the Chiefs. In fact, he just completed a three-year, $6.3 million deal. With just 12 catches for 164 yards and three touchdowns in 2018 for the high-powered K.C. offense, Harris played behind the great Travis Kelce, meaning he could be a second-tier option no matter where he goes. With some patience, the former college basketball player could blossom.
Offensive line is an area that will draw attention in both the draft and free agency for a Saints team that knows well the value of depth in the trenches.
Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, 26, began is career as a fourth round pick by the Patriots in 2014. His journey has taken him from New England to Dallas, where he has lined up at left tackle. The Stanford alum who played alongside Saints starter Andrus Peat in college, has been a swing player with 23 starts in 61 games. A very highly graded blocker, Fleming inked a $3.5 million contract for the 2018 season.
Kendall Lamm, also 26, was an undrafted signee with the Texans out of Appalachian State. He has 24 starts in four seasons. Lamm played under a two-year, $1,320,000 deal that concluded in 2018. However, the Texans have struggled to pass block as a unit recently, and the Saints demand elite performance in that area to protect Drew Brees.
D.J. Fluker might also be a second tier consideration for a team like New Orleans seeking depth over a starting option. The 27-year old has ties to the Crescent City, having attended McDonogh 35 prior to Katrina. He was a 6-3, 400 pound eighth grader who went onto be an All-American at Alabama. Fluker has settled in as a guard in the NFL as a six-year veteran who has played for the Chargers, Giants and Seahawks with 74 starts in six seasons.
That’s a lot of talk about offense, and we haven’t even discussed the potential need to replace the highly-regarded Teddy Bridgewater as the top Brees backup at quarterback. But still, what about the defense?
Defensive tackle Darius Philon, a sixth round pick by Chargers in 2015 from Arkansas, has active hands, sudden movement, great leverage and quickness. The 25-yard old had 13 starts in 2018, producing 33 tackles with four sacks. Many feel he is on the verge of big things. The Chargers will try to keep this 3 tech in their rotation.
Bennie Logan, a former LSU standout out of Coushatta, inked a one year $4 million with the Titans in 2018. The 29 year old played in 15 games this past season with no starts. He has 229 career stops. Health has been an issue, so Logan could be prompted to take an incentive laden deal.
Shaq Barrett, an edge defender who went undrafted in 2014, spent 2013 at Colorado State where he was named the Mountain West’s best defender after recording 12 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss. He has been a situational rusher with the Broncos with 14 sacks in 15 starts over 61 contests. Barrett suffered an injury to his hip in 2018. He plays in the shadows of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in Denver so he may be ready to blaze his own trail.
There are more names, and only the Saints’ brass knows who they value the most on the free agent market. Soon we will see the moves made to help the Black and Gold clear that final hurdle to reach another Super Bowl.
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…