With Benjamin Watson a free agent, Saints' TE position wide open

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2016 offseason -- counting down from No. 13 to No. 1 in order of need for upgrades or replacements. At No. 6 is tight end/fullback.

Current depth chart:

TE Benjamin Watson. Age 35, unrestricted free agent.

TE Josh Hill. Age 25, restricted free agent.

TE Michael Hoomanawanui. Age 27, unrestricted free agent.

TE RaShaun Allen. Age 25, signed through 2016. 2016 salary: $525,000. 2016 salary-cap number estimated at $525,000.

TE Jack Tabb. Age 23, signed through 2017. 2016 salary and bonuses: $450,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $451,000.

TE Chris Manhertz. Age 23, signed through 2017. 2016 salary: $450,000. 2016 salary-cap number estimated at $450,000.

FB Austin Johnson. Age 26, signed through 2016. 2016 salary: $600,000. 2016 salary-cap number estimated at $600,000.

FB Toben Opurum. Age 25, signed through 2016. 2016 salary and bonuses: $525,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $525,000.


This could rank even higher, considering the Saints’ top three tight ends are all free agents -- and the best one is 35 years old. But New Orleans proved last year that it can thrive without elite talent at tight end, with Watson having a career season after Jimmy Graham was traded away.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints re-sign the entire trio of Watson, Hill and Hoomanawanui, none of whom should break the bank. However, general manager Mickey Loomis indicated this week on SiriusXM Radio that the Saints will look to add tight ends through the draft or free agency. So they could aim for an upgrade.

The free-agent class is loaded with intriguing mid-level prospects who could potentially thrive in New Orleans’ tight end-friendly offense, including Dwayne Allen, Ladarius Green and Zach Miller.

Watson's breakout year might earn him a little more than the $1.65 million annual salary he got in his last deal. But he has proven to be such a great fit in New Orleans as a receiver, blocker, leader, captain and Man of the Year candidate, that I imagine both sides are interested in working something out.

Hill didn’t do much last year after coach Sean Payton talked him up in the offseason, but the Saints still are high on his potential and versatility. It will be interesting to see if they risk losing him at the lowest restricted-free agent tender amount (about $1.5 million) or tender him at the second-round compensation level, which costs closer to $2.5 million.

I always lump in the fullbacks with the tight ends since they are sometimes interchangeable in New Orleans’ offense. Last year, there were some weeks where the Saints didn’t have any fullbacks on the roster.

Johnson has been decent in the part-time role, and the Saints liked him enough to quickly re-sign him as an exclusive rights free agent this year.

Previous rankings:

No. 13: Running back

No. 12: Quarterback

No. 11: Offensive tackle

No. 10: Specialists

No. 9: Inside linebacker

No. 8: Wide receiver

No. 7: Safety