For years, the New Orleans Saints have wasted prime seasons from Drew Brees. It’s not that the front office hasn’t surrounded him with good talent on the outside, it’s that the defense has been one of the worst units in the NFL for too long.
With about $28 million in cap space, the Saints don’t have a ton of money to spend on free agents, but it’s certainly enough to add a top-notch player who can make a huge impact in Year 1. Needing help in the secondary and on the defensive line, here are five players the Saints should target in free agency before adding reinforcements in the draft.
Charles LeClaireCharles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
LB Gerald Hodges (49ers)
Stephone Anthony went from surefire starter after his rookie season to potential role player last year, recording just 16 tackles after posting 112 in 2015. His move to outside linebacker didn’t do him any favors, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to recover without moving back to insider ‘backer. Hodges would be a good addition for the Saints and would be a good insurance policy in the event that Anthony once again flakes out. Hodges emerged as a stud for the 49ers last season and would be a solid addition to New Orleans’ defense, which needs linebackers.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY SportsMatt Marton
DE Nick Perry (Packers)
Outside of Cameron Jordan, the Saints don’t much of a pass rush. They struggle to get after the quarterback, which only exposes their poor secondary further. Perry has primarily played in a 3-4 as an outside linebacker, but he has the size and strength to hold up at defensive end in New Orleans’ 4-3 front. He’s a one-year wonder who had a breakout season in 2016, but given he's only 26 and has potential to get better, he’s worth counting on to replicate that production for years to come.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
CB Brandon Carr (Cowboys)
The Saints will likely add two-plus cornerbacks this offseason, whether it’s in free agency or in the draft. Houston's A.J. Bouye would be the splash move, but Carr would be a valuable addition. He hasn’t missed a single game in his career and hardly ever comes off the field – a huge asset for a cornerback. He’s someone you can count on to be available each and every Sunday, an issue the Saints have had with their corners lately. Carr won’t pick off five passes in a season or make many game-changing plays, but he’s consistent and you know exactly what you’re going to get from him.
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DT Nick Fairley (Saints)
Fairley has bounced around the past two years, but he seems to have found a home in New Orleans. On a one-year deal, Fairley put up the best numbers of his career, recording 43 tackles and 6.5 sacks – both the most he’s ever had in the NFL. He’s earned an extension with the Saints and it’s time for the team to reward him with that. He and Sheldon Rankins can pair nicely at defensive tackle for years to come.
CB A.J. Bouye (Texans)
Cornerback is likely the most pressing need for the Saints this offseason, having just one great starter in Delvin Breaux – who’s had trouble staying on the field. Bouye is the top available cornerback outside of Stephon Gilmore, and he might just be better than the former Bills corner, too. Bouye can play inside and on the boundary, boasting great positional versatility, something teams covet at cornerback. He’s just entering his prime after posting the best season of his career with many Pro Bowls sure to come in the future.