It’s a safe bet the New Orleans Saints will cash in one of their biggest chips on a cornerback this offseason, via free agency or the draft.
Sean Payton recently labeled the position as one of New Orleans’ two “musts,” along with an edge rusher, after the team allowed the most passing yards in the NFL last season (273.8 per game).
And if you believe actions speak louder than words, look at what the Saints did over the past 10 months. They aggressively pursued cornerback Josh Norman when he became a free agent last April, even though it would have cost them $15 million per year. Then they considered drafting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in Round 1 and kicked the tires on veteran cornerback Joe Haden before the trade deadline.
The Saints’ depth at cornerback should be much improved in 2017 if Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams can bounce back from injuries and Sterling Moore re-signs as a free agent. But expect at least one high-profile addition to join them.
The cornerbacks come in at No. 2 in my position-by-position rankings of the Saints’ offseason needs.
Current depth chart:
Delvin Breaux. Age 27, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2018. 2017 salary and bonuses: $615,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $619,000.
Sterling Moore. Age 27, unrestricted free agent.
P.J. Williams. Age 23, signed through 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $640,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $816,478.
B.W. Webb. Age 26, unrestricted free agent.
Ken Crawley. Age 24, scheduled to be restricted free agent in 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $540,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $541,666.
De'Vante Harris. Age 22, scheduled to be restricted free agent in 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $540,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $541,333.
Damian Swann. Age 24, signed through 2018. 2017 salary and bonuses: $615,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $661,808.
Kyle Wilson. Age 29, unrestricted free agent.
Taveze Calhoun. Age 24, scheduled to be exclusive rights free agent in 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $465,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $465,000.
Anthony Gaitor. Age 28, signed through 2017. 2017 salary and bonuses: $615,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $615,000.
Jimmy Pruitt. Age 24, scheduled to be exclusive rights free agent in 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $465,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $465,000.
It has to get better for the Saints at cornerback in 2017 after a ridiculous barrage of injuries sabotaged their defense last year (Keenan Lewis, Swann and Wilson all suffered injuries in the summer, then starters Breaux and Williams went down in Weeks 1 and 2).
Breaux is still a No. 1-caliber cornerback who should be fully healthy this season. And I really like Moore, who filled in nicely after signing with the Saints in Week 1 last season. It’s nuts to think that Moore has had trouble finding a steady job in the NFL, since he has played well in stints with New Orleans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.
Webb (an in-season veteran signing) and Crawley (an undrafted rookie) also stepped up big for the Saints last year. And Williams has shown a ton of promise, though injuries have limited him to just two games in two years.
So that’s a ton of depth to work with – and could make for some tough decisions come cut-down day in September. But the Saints would prefer to have most of those guys battling for nickel and dime jobs behind Breaux and a new high-end starter.
It’s possible the Saints could look to spend mega-millions on the position in free agency, with someone such as the Houston Texans’ A.J. Bouye or the Buffalo Bills’ Stephon Gilmore. The Saints will have more than $30 million in cap space and plan to spend aggressively – and most of the high-end pass rushers have been locked up with franchise tags. So cornerback may be the position where they spend the most.
Or they could consider a second-tier free agent such as the New England Patriots’ Logan Ryan, the Dallas Cowboys’ Morris Claiborne or the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Prince Amukamara. And they could consider cornerback in the first couple rounds of the draft, with possibilities such as LSU’s Tre'Davious White, Washington’s Sidney Jones IV or the Florida duo of Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor.