METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have a sweet spot.
That second or third tier of free agency -- where they have a long history of hitting on value signings such as tight end Jared Cook and defensive tackle Malcom Brown last year, linebacker Demario Davis in 2018 and guard Larry Warford, linebacker A.J. Klein, defensive end Alex Okafor and receiver Ted Ginn Jr. in 2017.
They'll likely target that same range this year, even though their salary-cap constraints are even tighter than usual.
The Saints have less than $10 million in cap space. They have to re-sign quarterbacks Drew Brees and Taysom Hill, among others. And they have to prepare for some major contract extensions in the near future for the likes of stars Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk and Marshon Lattimore.
But the Saints have never let those types of cap constraints paralyze them in free agency. As general manager Mickey Loomis often says, it just reduces their margin for error.
So here is a look at where they might want to spend those precious resources:
This is New Orleans’ most glaring need for the second year in a row. Not only did Michael Thomas catch 119 more passes than any other Saints receiver last season (yes, you read that right), but Ginn is a free agent who turns 35 next month and might not be re-signed.
The most obvious solution for the Saints is the draft, where analysts seem to agree that this is the most loaded wide receiver class in years. The Saints select 24th in Round 1 and should have their pick among several top receivers there.
However, it’s also possible that free-agent receivers will come a little cheaper since so many teams are looking to the draft.
I don’t think the Saints need a superstar such as Amari Cooper or A.J. Green -- just a reliable No. 2 option in the mold of past New Orleans standouts Lance Moore or Willie Snead. So maybe a veteran such as Emmanuel Sanders could be affordable, especially since he turns 33 this month. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder is a terrific route runner and dependable pass-catcher who has spent much of his career operating out of the slot.
Two other options the Saints could certainly consider are Robby Anderson and Breshad Perriman. They reportedly kicked the tires on Anderson before last year’s trade deadline. But both of them are primarily used as deep threats. And the Saints’ offense has been less and less reliant on the deep ball during the later stages of Brees’ career.
This position is in flux. A.J. Klein is an unrestricted free agent. Kiko Alonso is recovering from a torn ACL and will almost certainly need to agree to a pay cut to stay in New Orleans. And Davis and veteran backup Craig Robertson are both heading into the final year of their contracts.
This should probably be a high priority in the draft, with an eye toward reloading the position for the future. But the Saints might also want to find an immediate upgrade in free agency.
One player they’re interested in is Jamie Collins -- a 30-year-old who just resurrected his career by returning to the New England Patriots in 2019 and recording seven sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder struggled during his three-year stint with the Cleveland Browns before that. But he would add an obvious injection of athleticism as a hybrid outside linebacker/edge rusher.
However, it still will be a high priority for the Saints to secure a veteran backup whom they trust to throw into the game if Brees gets hurt. That way, they can keep using Hill in his versatile role as a QB/RB/WR/TE/FB.
The option that jumps out is Chase Daniel, who spent five years as a Saints backup from 2009 to 2012 and again in 2017. But it’s possible that some more experienced guys could be available at a discount this year, when supply seems to outweigh demand at the position. That includes free agents Marcus Mariota and Case Keenum, while Andy Dalton and Nick Foles could be available via trade.
If the Saints decide to let left guard Andrus Peat leave as a free agent, they could potentially look for an upgrade -- especially since Warford is in the final year of his own contract. There could be some good options available in this year’s free-agent class, including Joe Thuney, Graham Glasgow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
The Saints could use another edge rusher to rotate with Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport. I can’t imagine they could afford the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Shaquil Barrett, Yannick Ngakoue or Everson Griffen or Matthew Judon (Ngakoue and Judon have already been franchise-tagged). But with so many options available, maybe a discount shakes out from the group of Bud Dupree, Dante Fowler Jr., Robert Quinn, Vic Beasley Jr., Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Lawson or Mario Addison, among others.
Defensive tackle could become a priority if the Saints lose David Onyemata. Cornerback might be as well if they decide to part ways with free agents Eli Apple and P.J. Williams and high-priced backup Patrick Robinson. One cornerback they should consider is James Bradberry from the rival Carolina Panthers -- he has been more successful than most while trying to defend Thomas over the years.