Will the Saints make substantial moves in free agency and how will this impact the fantasy landscape? Dave Caban reviews New Orlean’s 2018 season, outlines players the team will lose to free agency and considers free agent targets.
Free agency and salary data included in this article was sourced from Spotrac
2018 IN SUMMARY
As expected, the Saints were one of the NFL’s best teams in 2018, winning 13 games, and nearly making it to the Super Bowl. The team scored 504 points while allowing 353 for a net positive of 151 points.
New Orleans rushed 471 times and passed 519 while scoring 59 touchdowns. Drew Brees failed to pass for more than 4,000 yards for the first time since 2005. This is unsurprising as Brees threw 124 passes less than his 10-year average. Still, his 32 passing touchdowns was a major improvement over the 23 he threw in 2017.1 Brees had one of the most efficient seasons of his career, recording an AYA of 9.0, passer rating of 116, and threw for a score every 14 attempts.2
Brees success was tethered to Michael Thomas who caught 88 percent of the 147 targets thrown at him. Alvin Kamara was the team’s second look in the passing game with 105 targets and 81 receptions. He was also exceptional as a rusher. Kamara averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and scored 14 touchdowns. He added four more through the air. Mark Ingram rushed 4.7 yards per attempt and scored six rushing touchdowns.
OFFENSIVE FREE AGENTS
AAV stands for average annual value and is calculated by dividing the total value of a contract by its life
The Saints utilized Taysom Hill on 17 percent of snaps in 2018. However, he recorded just seven passing attempts. Teddy Bridgewater was the team’s true backup quarterback and could return in 2019. With fewer teams requiring QB help in 2019 than in seasons past, it’s not set in stone that Bridgewater finds a starting job elsewhere.
Since 2016, Ingram has recorded at least 4.7 yards per attempt while scoring 24 rushing touchdowns, recording 72 receptions, and five more scores through the air. The Saints’ backfield rests firmly in the hands of Kamara but Ingram has allowed the team to manage the younger back’s workload while adding another dimension to the New Orleans offense.
Ben Watson, who has officially retired, was targeted 46 times in 2018 and found the end zone twice. With Michael Hoomanawanui an unrestricted free agent, Josh Hill will be the starter unless the team makes a move in free agency or addresses its tight end need in the draft. As the Saints don’t have a first-round pick, Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson likely won’t be available when the team gets on the clock in April.
Josh Huff and Tommylee Lewis played minor roles in the Saints’ passing game. Nonetheless, the team has a need it must address.
Kamara is one of the best receiving backs in the league, but the fact that the team’s third, fourth, and fifth most heavily targeted players recorded just five more combined targets than him is a problem. To be fair, Tedd Ginn played in just four games, which skews the above numbers, and Tre’Quan Smith should continue to develop. Still, with Watson gone, Brees needs more red-zone options, and the receiving corps is devoid of depth.
Smith and Brees had a strong connection in 2018. While AYA doesn’t necessarily carry from year to year, the duo’s 2018 average of 12.23 is encouraging.
Smith finished the season with 28 receptions on 44 targets, 427 yards, and five touchdowns. While certainly not terrible, it yields mixed results when searching for players that produced similarly in their first NFL season.
This cohort isn’t weak enough to scare off his believers, but if New Orleans is expecting him to become a star, history is not on its side.
The Saints rank 28th in 2019 cap space with just $9.1 million. However, their 2020 cap space of $106 million ranks sixth. Adding depth in the passing game while addressing the team’s need at TE should be a major priority. This makes Jared Cook, the top pass-catching TE available, a natural target.
The 32-year-old was arguably the Raider’s most important offensive player in 2018. He converted 68 of 101 targets into 896 yards and six touchdowns. For stretches of the season, the Raiders offense ran through him. New Orleans is no stranger to making use of receiving TEs. For this reason, Coby Fleener was one of the most exciting additions of the 2016 offseason. That’s not to say that Cook would be a lock to produce in the way that Jimmy Graham did as a Saint. But Cook would fill two major needs, be playing alongside one of the leagues’ best QBs, and given his 2018 success, could reasonably be expected to prosper.
If Cook becomes too expensive, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, and Jesse James, among others, will likely become connected to the team. Regardless of who is signed at TE, the team will likely add depth at WR. Veterans such as Branden LaFell, Phillip Dorsett, and Devin Funchess could fit into the Saints’ 2019 cap situation. Funchess, in particular, could be used as a red-zone option if a receiving TE is not acquired.
If Cook is signed, it may be hard to bring Ingram back. Despite being 29 years old, he’s one of the best free agents available in a group that’s headlined by Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi, C.J. Anderson, and Latavius Murray. It would make sense for New Orleans to resign Ingram, but if that’s not an option, the Saints aren’t expected to go after a different rusher with name recognition.
New Orleans loses a handful of defensive veterans to free agency but doesn’t have any glaring or significantly expensive needs. This leaves the team with some room to maneuver in 2019, and given a solid future cap outlook, bringing in a long-term addition to its passing game needs is a possibility.
Cook makes the most sense of any free agent, and unlike a TE that could be added through the draft, would make an immediate impact. Any WR signed by the Saints will receive some degree of fantasy buzz, but the team needs to bolster its depth in the receiving corps, not necessarily bring in a star wideout. This is likely why the team hasn’t been connected, in any concrete way at least, to Antonio Brown.