The New Orleans Saints are one of 32 NFL teams that will not be playing a football game this weekend. Coaches and front office braintrusts of every team are constantly looking for ways to improve their teams in hopes of getting to the enviable spot of playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The Steelers, Patriots, Packers, and Falcons are this Sunday. One of the ways to improve a team of course is through free agency, which begins at the official start of NFL’s new year on March 9th.
Who Dat Dish began our free agency preview of the New Orleans Saints with a look at the running back position on whodatdish.com. Today, we’ll look over the Saints wide receiving corps; what they currently have on the roster, in-house priorities, free agent possibilities, and free agents to avoid.
Wide receivers on roster:
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New Orleans currently has rookie sensation Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks, TommyLee Lewis and Jordan Williams-Lambert under contract, plus the signing of Rashad Lawrence under a “futures” contract from the Jaguars. Amazingly, not a single wideout on the roster this past season was over the age of 24.
Thomas would have been an easy choice for the NFL rookie of the year, if not for the duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas. The second round pick from Ohio State had 92 receptions for 1137 yards and nine touchdowns. He looked every bit like a future all-pro stud. Thomas has great size, underrated speed, and can run every route. Furthermore, Thomas showed one of the best hands in the league.
Also, Cooks continued to show that he belongs in the conversation as well. This duo has the potential to be among the most dangerous big play threats in the NFL. The third year pro led the Saints with 1173 yards on his 78 catches to go along with eight touchdowns. Cooks did struggle with consistency at times this year, and had a publicized (but overblown) overflow of frustration on social media. Still, the combination of the 23 year old Cooks, Thomas, and Willie Snead (dubbed the “Young Guns” by yours truly) are perhaps the most formidable trio in the league.
TommyLee Lewis was another 2016 training camp fan favorite, surprisingly making the squad after being undrafted from Northern Illinois. The diminutive but speedy Lewis only had seven receptions for the year but emerged as the team’s primary punt return man by season’s end.
His best potential remains as a returner, but needs to show improvement in that area, as it remains one of the Saints biggest weaknesses. Another addition, Williams-Lambert spent his first professional season on the Saints practice squad, but his size 6-foot-3 228 lbs. and decent hands will warrant a training camp look in 2017.
Saints free agent outlook:
Next to defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Willie Snead is the biggest free agent name that the Saints have entering the off-season. The great news here is that Snead is an exclusive rights free agent, which means that New Orleans will completely control whether the 24 year old third year pro remains a Saint. Snead blasted into relevance during his first year as a Saint, with 69 receptions for 984 yards, then followed that up with 72 catches and 895 yards in 2016.
Look for the team to try and sign Snead to a mult-year deal worth significantly more than the $480,000 he played for last season. Third year pro Brandon Coleman has not emerged as the “next Marques Colston”, as many projected him to be. Coleman had an outstanding training camp in 2015. Still, the 24 year old Coleman has earned the trust of quarterback Drew Brees. Coleman continues to improve and has emerged as a good complimentary mid-range weapon, particularly near the end zone.
Coleman is a restricted free agent, so if they tender him a contract offer the Saints will have the opportunity to match any contract offer from another team should they choose to. The Black and Gold won’t find it likely that another team will break the bank on Brandon Coleman, so his 6’6″ frame will probably once again be donned in black and gold.
Jake Lampman is another exclusive rights free agent receiver. The Saints coaches like what Lampman adds to the team, especially on special teams. Although not probable, there are a couple of young veterans that could interest the Saints should they decide to make any moves….and a buyer beware warning on each of them…..
Free Agents the Saints will look at:
Cordarrelle Patterson (age 25-Vikings)
Patterson was a first round pick by Minnesota in 2013 from Tennessee and has yet to live up to potential. In four years on a mostly inept Viking offense, Patterson averaged only 33 receptions and 339 yards per season with seven total touchdowns. Certainly a disappointment for a number one draft choice. What does have Patterson linked to New Orleans in recent weeks is his amazing kickoff return abilities.
Voted to the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2016 specifically for his special teams prowess, Patterson averaged almost 31 yards per kickoff return with five touchdowns. In comparison, Saints kickoff return men have averaged less than 22 yards per return each of the last two years. The next name is one that will be a bit familiar to Saints fans….
Kenny Stills (age 24-Dolphins)
Stills was a 5th round pick by New Orleans from Oklahoma in 2013. His two years in New Orleans saw him emerging as one of the top deep threats in the NFL with 95 total catches for 1,572 yards and eight touchdowns. Stills’ career stagnated a bit, once the Saints traded him to Miami prior to the 2015 season, but he rebounded in 2016 with over 700 yards receiving and nine scores. Stills is still a young and dynamic player with good familiarity of Drew Brees and the Saints offense.
The obvious buyer beware with Kenny Stills is this: there was a reason that the New Orleans Saints traded him away in the first place. Rumors of a poor work ethic, partying lifestyle, and being a locker room disruption wore thin on teammates and coaches enough, to deal Stills away in a move that surprised many fans.
Wide receiver outlook:
This is the best receiving corps that Drew Brees has played with over his entire career. They are young playmakers who are improving rapidly that should already be mentioned among the top wideout corps in the league. Sean Payton will likely bring in a few new players here, either late in the draft or undrafted college free agents. He always does.
That’s exactly how players like Colston and Coleman have started their careers. Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Marques Colston, and the current group are players that were either drafted by the Saints or signed out of obscurity from other organizations. There will be little to no movement in this unit.
Free Agent priority= low
Next, Who Dat Dish will take a look at the Saints tight end position.