When is the last time you can remember the New Orleans Saints being set with their kicker in February?
Wil Lutz was far from perfect as a rookie in 2016. But his strong finish -- and Sean Payton’s immense faith in him -- should have Lutz entrenched in the role again to start 2017.
That’s a big reason why I’m ranking specialists last among the Saints’ offseason needs in my position-by-position look at New Orleans’ roster.
The specialists kick off the list at No. 12.
Current depth chart:
P Thomas Morstead. Age 30, signed through 2018. 2017 salary and bonuses: $3.75 million. 2017 salary-cap number: $4.7 million.
K Wil Lutz. Age 22, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $540,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $540,000.
LS Justin Drescher. Age 29, unrestricted free agent.
LS Jesse Schmitt. Age 24, scheduled to become exclusive rights free agent in 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $465,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $465,000.
The Saints can’t completely ignore the specialists this offseason -- especially since longtime long-snapper Drescher is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.
But I rank this group last among the Saints' needs because I can’t imagine them using significant resources on any of these spots in free agency or the draft.
Lutz hasn’t exactly earned a lifetime guaranteed contract just yet. But Payton’s faith in the undrafted rookie paid off down the stretch last year, when Lutz didn’t miss a kick during the final six games (12-for-12 field goals, 18-for-18 extra points).
Lutz’s entire year was a roller coaster -- starting with the Saints’ surprising decision to sign him in Week 1 after he was released by the Baltimore Ravens and had what Payton called “probably the best kicking workout I’ve ever seen.”
Lutz then missed six field goals and an extra point during the first 10 games -- including three game-changing blocked kicks in close losses that weren’t all his fault.
However, he made steady progress and really seemed to benefit when the Saints hired veteran special teams coach Kevin O’Dea late in the season to work with Lutz and the entire snap-hold-kick process. O’Dea will remain on staff, but the Saints fired longtime special teams coordinator Greg McMahon and replaced him with former Washington Redskins assistant Bradford Banta.
Morstead, meanwhile, was back to his usual stellar performance level after battling injury in 2015. Eventually the Saints might have to think about replacing their former Pro Bowler. But they don’t take his consistent excellence for granted, and he is still only 30 years old (31 in March). Plus, Morstead’s salary shouldn’t be a concern with the Saints projected to start free agency around $25 million under the salary cap.
Chances are, the Saints will bring back Drescher, too. But they have already brought in some competition by signing Schmitt in January. They could also look to get younger and cheaper with an undrafted rookie.