New Orleans Saints face big-dollar decisions with Terron Armstead, Marcus Williams and also at QB

Cam Jordan is openly scouting for the next Saints QB (0:59)

Saints DE Cam Jordan joins First Take and calls on multiple quarterbacks to join him in New Orleans. (0:59)

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have made it clear they don’t plan to rebuild under new coach Dennis Allen. So they’ll stay aggressive in free agency despite some major salary-cap constraints.

However, they do care about getting players at the right value. So that will create some tough choices with how much to spend on a quarterback and two of ESPN’s top seven unrestricted free agents -- left tackle Terron Armstead and safety Marcus Williams.

The Saints are not expected to use the franchise tag on Williams for the second straight year, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. That doesn’t appear to be the plan with Armstead, either, before Tuesday’s tag deadline. If they re-sign either player, it will likely be a multi-year agreement – which would also help them manage the cap costs better.

Here’s a look at New Orleans' biggest financial decisions:

Do they have enough cap space for all three?

Technically, yes. Whether or not you approve of the Saints’ method of constantly restructuring deals to move cap costs into future years, they actually began this offseason with enough wiggle room to go from $75 million over the cap to more than $30 million under the cap without cutting a single player.

And they can backload the cap charges on any new deal they sign.

That’s why they aren’t about to dismantle the roster while elite players like Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis and Marshon Lattimore are still in their primes.

However, general manager Mickey Loomis has said for the past decade that the Saints’ cap situation “reduces your margin for error.” So even though they spend aggressively, they do put limits on what they believe each player is worth.

Last year for example, they chose to re-sign Ramczyk and Lattimore to contracts worth nearly $20 million per year and placed the franchise tag on Williams despite being in an even worse cap situation. But they chose to let defensive end Trey Hendrickson sign elsewhere (a decision that worked out very well for the Cincinnati Bengals).

How much will they spend on a QB?

It’s possible the Saints will aim very high in the quarterback market with a potential trade for a superstar like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, which would obviously limit their spending elsewhere. However, there has been no indication yet that either quarterback will be available -- or if New Orleans would be the highest bidder.

So it's much more likely the Saints will bring back a familiar free agent like Jameis Winston or Teddy Bridgewater at a more affordable rate. Winston should be considered the odds-on favorite after he went 5-2 as a starter in New Orleans last season before tearing his ACL.

Regardless, this is the Saints’ top priority and the only “must” on this list. Loomis told reporters at the NFL scouting combine that they are approaching the position “with a sense of urgency, that’s for sure.” And he said it will be tough for them to rely on landing a starting quarterback in the draft, even if they trade up from the 18th pick.

Is Armstead worth it?

This might be the trickiest question on this list. When the 6-foot-5, 304-pounder is healthy, he’s as good as any offensive lineman in the NFL. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s best offensive tackle in 2015 and 2018. And he was still at his best at the end of the 2020 season, when Kamara’s historic six-touchdown performance on Christmas Day was basically an Armstead highlight reel.

A healthy Armstead could be a big enough difference-maker to help turn a contender into a Super Bowl winner (once again: see Bengals). That upside could drive Armstead’s price up to $20 million or more per year.

Unfortunately, health has been a nagging issue for Armstead, who turns 31 in July. He missed nine games in 2021 because of elbow and knee injuries and had surgery to repair his right knee following the season. And he missed 21 games combined from 2016 to '18 because of knee, hip, shoulder and pectoral injuries before his health improved from 2019 to '20.

The Saints have shown interest in re-signing Armstead. If they get outbid, they have a decent fallback option in veteran James Hurst – especially because they have one of the NFL’s premier right tackles in Ramczyk. But the Saints need to get better production out of their guard spots than they did in 2021.

Is Williams worth it?

Williams hasn’t quite risen to Armstead’s level yet.

But keeping him could be more realistic, because he is younger, healthier and cheaper. The trick is deciding whether he is worth the salary he should command, somewhere in the neighborhood of top-of-the-market safeties Jamal Adams ($17.645 million per year), Harrison Smith ($16.145), Justin Simmons ($15.25) and Budda Baker ($14.75).

Williams hasn’t made a Pro Bowl, but he is widely considered to be among the league’s top young safeties. Pro Football Focus ranked him among the top seven in each of the past three years. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has had an obvious effect on a New Orleans defense that ranks among the NFL’s top six in both yards and points allowed since he became an immediate starter as a second-round draft pick in 2017.

Allen will certainly have some say in the matter because he is a former safety and defensive backs coach who just spent those past five years as Williams’ defensive coordinator.

If the Saints lose Williams, they still have decent depth at the position. But fellow starters Malcolm Jenkins (34) and C.J. Gardner-Johnson (24) are both heading into the final year of their contracts, and veteran backup P.J. Williams (28) is also an unrestricted free agent. So they might seek a replacement if they let him go.

Where else do Saints need to spend?

I wrote about the Saints’ need for a receiver revival, though they could make that a draft priority if they wind up spending big elsewhere. Other unrestricted free agents they could prioritize include linebacker Kwon Alexander, wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, quarterback Trevor Siemian and Williams.