For the first time in years the Saints find themselves entering the off-season with plenty of cap space to work with. While some like the idea of signing a big name player or two, that approach to free agency hasn’t worked out so well for the black & gold in recent years. The truth is the Saints have always done far better when they don’t go chasing the biggest names with the highest price tags. So how do the Saints make the most of the coming free agency period? The 2017 off-season presents a golden opportunity to strengthen numerous weaknesses at one time by focusing mainly on the low to mid-range priced free agents. Here are several free agents who could strengthen the Saints’ roster without overspending.
Ronald Leary, OG
Perhaps the most obvious free agent target for the Saints would be Ronald Leary. The veteran offensive guard has been very clear that he wants out of Dallas ever since this past spring. By coming to the Saints, Leary would have an opportunity to start immediately. Luring the Baton Rouge native to New Orleans shouldn’t be a difficult task since Mickey Loomis and the front office have already laid the groundwork for this signing. Despite not being able to work out a trade with the Cowboys during the first half of the 2016 season, the months of pursuit by the Saints has to have made it clear to both Leary and his agent that New Orleans is somewhere he would definitely be wanted.
Rick Wagner, OT
While Zach Strief has been having a decent season, it has certainly been the exception rather than the rule in recent years. While he can still hold his own when it comes to strength versus strength, the 11 year veteran has struggled significantly against speed rushers in recent years. Quite simply he can’t keep up with them anymore. With the Saints in their best financial position in years, the wise move would be to invest in a replacement. Rick Wagner is wrapping up his fourth season in the league and making a name for himself in the process. Now considered one of the top tackles in the league, reports are already saying Wagner may have played himself out of Baltimore’s price range forcing them to let him walk this coming spring. He’s developed a reputation among teammates as a quiet guy who works and studies hard and lets his play on the field speak for him. A young man like Wagner would be a wise investment for the Saints.
Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB
There’s no question that the pass rush in the Big Easy needs more help. For the past several seasons the Saints have been looking to fill the void opposite Cameron Jordan along the defensive line. Jabaal Sheard has a gift for disrupting things in the backfield that could help to fill that void. As a starter during his first three years in the league, he led the Browns in sacks. Despite being part of a rotation during the past two seasons in New England, he still finished with the second most sacks on the team in both seasons. With the large number of free agents the Patriots have to deal with this off-season, there’s a good chance the Saints could steal Sheard away while their attention is elsewhere.
John Simon, OLB
Along the defensive line the Saints are one good bookend away from having a solid front four. The linebacking corps is a different story. There is no answer on the current roster for the hole at strong-side linebacker. One interesting riser in the league is John Simon. As a backup with the Texans, he still managed to get 5 sacks in 2015 followed by 3.5 in only 11 games this season. Not bad considering he was competing with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Benardrick McKinney for those sacks. Simon is also regarded as one Houston’s best run defenders. A few million dollars and a legitimate chance at a starting position should be more than enough to lure Simon to New Orleans.
Zach Brown, OLB
The Saints have an equally large hole on the opposite end of their linebacking corps at the weak-side position. While Dannell Ellerbe has his strengths, his health is always a concern. Zach Brown would be an ideal replacement in the starting lineup. Brown has more sacks, tackles for a loss, forced fumbles, interceptions and passes defended than Ellerbe in half as many seasons on the field. As for his health, Brown missed one full season with a torn pectoral muscle. Otherwise he hasn’t missed a game in his five-year career. Brown’s background would also very beneficial to the Saints. Despite playing as a 3-4 inside linebacker the past few seasons, Brown was a very productive 4-3 weakside linebacker during college and his first few seasons in Nashville. He also ran track in both high school and college in addition to wrestling all through high school, going undefeated in his senior year. This likely explains his 4.5 40-time and his high number of tackles each season. With all the coaching upheaval in Buffalo this off-season, there’s a good chance Brown makes it to the free agent market. If so, the Saints should move quickly to sign him.
Logan Ryan, CB
Cornerback has been a lingering problem for the Saints for several years now. While they have talent at the position in players like Sterling Moore and P.J. Williams, there isn’t anyone truly worthy of starting opposite Delvin Breaux. Logan Ryan can fill that void. In his first four seasons in the league the Rutgers product has shown a knack for defending the pass averaging double digit stats over that time. He also has a talent for creating turnovers, something that has been lacking in the New Orleans secondary in recent years. Over the past four years, Ryan has 13 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles to his credit. In addition to his on-field talent, his health would be a great asset to the Saints. Not only has Ryan has never missed a game since he entered the league, but he has almost never even shown up on the Patriots’ injury report.