A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason – ranked from 1-12 in order of the team’s need for upgrades or replacements.
Current depth chart:
Kenny Vaccaro. Age 22, signed through 2016, with team option for 2017. 2014 salary and bonuses: $833,396. 2014 salary-cap number: $2.14 million.
Malcolm Jenkins. Age 26, unrestricted free agent.
Roman Harper. Age 31, signed through 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $3.15 million . 2014 salary-cap number: $5.87 million.
Rafael Bush. Age 26, restricted free agent.
Jordan Pugh. Age 26, unrestricted free agent.
The good news here is that the Saints nailed their first-round draft pick last year with Vaccaro, who quickly emerged as a versatile every-down player for them. Although his season ended early with a fractured ankle, Vaccaro should be fine by the summer. And he has the skill set to become a future Pro Bowler.
Behind Vaccaro, however, this position is loaded with question marks. Jenkins is an unrestricted free agent. Bush is a restricted free agent. And Harper will almost certainly need to agree to a pay cut to stay in New Orleans. I think the Saints will consider bringing all of them back at the right price. But it’s unlikely that everyone will come back. And the Saints like to feature three safeties in their nickel defense, so they will certainly look to add one or two newcomers through free agency and the draft.
Jenkins, a former first-round pick himself, is a tough call. He has always shown great potential as a playmaker, but he has also been inconsistent at times in pass coverage and as an open-field tackler. He started out great last season under the direction of new coordinator Rob Ryan, and they look like they could be a good match. But if another team is willing to pay for Jenkins’ potential, the Saints may let him go this offseason because of their salary-cap constraints.
Harper has also battled inconsistency in recent years -- especially in pass coverage. And he became the Saints’ No. 3 safety last season after Vaccaro’s emergence. But Ryan’s defense seemed to be a good fit for Harper, as well. He started strong in 2013 before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for half the season. Then he finished strong with an excellent performance in the playoff loss at Seattle. I think it’s possible Harper could stay in New Orleans if he agrees to a contract near the veteran minimum. But if another team is willing to pay more, the Saints will likely let him go.
Bush, meanwhile, will be a priority to re-sign, even though it will probably require a one-year restricted free agent tender of more than $2 million to keep him. Bush could potentially replace either Jenkins or Harper after he played a significant role in the rotation this past season.