The New Orleans Saints organization is about to embark onto one of its most pivotal NFL offseasons in recent memory: the Saints are miles over cap (some $80 million); they have talented players that need tying down (Hendrickson, for example); they may well need a new quarterback if franchise legend Drew Brees opts to retire, and they need to add wisely in key positions, too, and all this on a severely limited budget.
Suffice to say that fans down in the Bayou are buckling up for a rough ride!
The show must go on, though, and, regarding the positions that New Orleans needs to strengthen, I've already taken a look at tight ends and receivers (click for the links). The defensive end is another position that the Saints need to fill for a few reasons, namely: there is a big chance that New Orleans can't afford to re-sign Trey Hendrickson for next season; Marcus Davenport only has one-year left on his four-year deal; Cam Jordan is getting older, and Carl Granderson is yet to convince. As such, it's time to take a look at the:
Top 3 free agents available to fill the Saints' needs at defensive end
Man, I hope Trey Hendrickson sticks around!
#3 NFL Free Agency: Yannick Ngakoue (Baltimore Ravens)
Yannick Ngakoue endured a stop-start campaign in 2020. The defensive end was first traded from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Minnesota Vikings during the offseason. Ngakoue got off to a decent start with the Vikings, hitting 5 sacks and forcing 2 fumbles. But Vikings GM Rick Spielman, upset he couldn't pair Ngakoue with the injured Darnelle Hunter, opted to release the new signing in favor of bedding some of the younger talents in the squad.
The Baltimore Ravens pounced on the chance to add a quality pass rusher to the team, trading their 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick to the Vikings to bring Ngakoue to Maryland.
Ngakoue didn't show the absolute best aspects of his game in Baltimore but still managed to chalk up 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He's that kind of football player: a guy capable of making big plays at any moment. He might not have the tactical nous of a Cam Jordan or a Lavonte David, but Ngakoue brings it; he wants to make plays on the ball, and he does it better than most.
If the Ravens are unwilling to extend his stay, and if the Saints can bring him on the cheap, it's a deal worth looking at: when he's on song, there aren't many better pass rushers in the league than the former pro-Bowler, Ngakoue.
#2. NFL Free Agency: J.J. Watt (unregistered free agent)
J.J. Watt had his wish granted last week: the Texan was cut-loose from his contract and is now an unregistered free-agent.
In his ten-year career with Houston, Watt was personally responsible for sacking the opposition quarterback 101 times. He also forced 25 fumbles. J.J. Watt is a legend in Houston, Texas, and beyond.
Of course, with a resume like that, competition for Watt's services is expected to be hot; the early favorites for his signature have already emerged, and New Orleans hasn't been mentioned once.
The Saints' inactivity on Watt doesn't change the fact that he is an elite player who just wants a Super Bowl run. If the Packers don't bring him home to Wisconsin, and the Steelers opt not to reunite him with brother T.J. Watt in Pittsburgh, then why wouldn't Watt consider a couple of years of light jazz and creole seasoning in New Orleans? The Saints are, after all, one of the best teams in the NFL and capable of going deep into the playoffs again next year.
Hey, a boy can dream...
#1 NFL Free Agency: Shaquil Barrett (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Shaq Barrett might technically be a linebacker, but such is his ability at rushing the passer that he could easily play defensive end. Barrett clearly sees himself in the position, too: before agreeing to stay with the Bucs last year, Barrett had sought to be designated as a defensive end on his franchise tag and even went so far as to file a grievance with the NFL Players Association on the matter.
Whether he is a defensive end or a linebacker is irrelevant, though. The key thing about Shaq Barrett is that he is brilliant. In 2019 he led the league in sacks, racking up a whopping 19.5 while on pass rush duties.
Barrett most certainly operated in much more of a traditional linebacker role during the Bucs' charge to the Lombardi trophy last year, but he still chipped in with 8 sacks to go alongside his incredible, run-stuffing-displays behind Tampa's defensive line.
Shaq is an elite football player who can do it all; the Buccaneers would be crazy to let him stroll off into the sunset after the year he just had alongside Lavonte David, Devin White, et al in the Tampa D. But if the Bucs are crazy enough to let him go; if Barrett wants to win another Super Bowl, he could do a lot worse than linking up with Demario Davis, Cam Jordan, et al down in New Orleans.
Also read: NFL: Top 5 Lopsided Trades of all time