Free-Agent Possibilities at Saints Positions of Concern – Sports Illustrated

In just nine days, rookies report to the New Orleans Saints facility to officially open the team’s 2022 training camp. Veterans report one week later, on July 27. The Saints are looking to return to the postseason this season after missing the playoffs for the first time in five years during an injury-marred 2021 campaign.
New Orleans has had an active offseason. They've added several expected contributors through the draft and free agency, and will get a host of talent back from injury. With Pro Bowl caliber players at nearly every position and spectacular depth, expect roster battles to be hotly contested throughout camp.
Despite their talent, there are still some concerning spots on the roster. Most notably, the lack of talent at tight end and unproven depth at running back and linebacker. The Saints have approximately $10.6 million in cap space currently available if they were to look to bring in any more free agents.
With just two weeks before the full squad reports, it seems likely that New Orleans is content with giving early practice reps to their younger players. However, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Saints explore some remaining free agent possibilities if these younger players don't develop quickly.
Here are some free-agent names still available at the Saints most questionable positions.
(Age and previous term in parentheses)
Former Baltimore Ravens running back Latavius Murray (28) runs against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Five-time Pro Bowl RB Alvin Kamara is facing a potential six-game suspension for an offseason arrest in Las Vegas. The Saints have 12-year veteran Mark Ingram behind him, but otherwise no proven depth.
Third-year RB Tony Jones was a disappointment after a strong preseason last year. Dwayne Washington is mainly a special teamer. Abram Smith is an undrafted rookie. Devine Ozigbo, also undrafted, has just 24 offensive touches over his three-year career.
Murray played in New Orleans from 2019 to 2020, rushing for 1,327 yards and 9 touchdowns as a backup to Kamara. He was released during training camp last year after being outplayed by Jones and signed with Baltimore. In 14 games with the Ravens, Murray rushed for 501 yards and six scores. He’s on the back end of his career, but knows the system and can still be productive between the tackles.
A former rival with the Falcons, Freeman also spent time in New Orleans camp last summer. After being released, he’d join Murray in a Ravens backfield decimated by injuries. Freeman had 576 rushing yards, second only to Lamar Jackson, and added 34 receptions for 190 yards while scoring six touchdowns.
McKinnon would bring a versatile element to the offense if Kamara does miss time. Howard and Hyde have been slowed by injuries in recent seasons. However, like Murray, they are rugged runners between the tackles. Johnson was given a tryout during mini-camp, but was unable to come to terms on a contract.
Don't look for the Saints to add another running back before camp. Kamara's legal proceedings still have to play out. Smith, Ozigbo, and Jones will have their chances to solidify a roster spot with reps early in camp and preseason. If they fail to impress, then New Orleans could look to poach a back after preseason cuts, or perhaps even swing a trade.
Former New York Giants tight end Kyle Rudolph (80) runs after a catch against the Kansas City Chiefs. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY
Nineteen NFL tight ends had better individual production than the Saints trio of Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, and Nick Vannett last season. Other than moving Taysom Hill, in principle, to tight end this offseason, the Saints did nothing at the position this offseason.
Graham and Rudolph were each among the league's best tight ends at one point, but both are well past their prime. Ebron is a younger version of Jared Cook. Both are skilled receivers with inconsistent effort and production who add little as blockers. Pruitt and James were both disappointments when given larger roles over the last two seasons.
The Saints had an opportunity to sign one of several top-tier tight ends early in free agency. They also ignored the position through the middle rounds of the draft, when several intriguing prospects were available. Barring injury, don't expect any additions to this position during training camp.
A much improved receiving corps, along with Kamara, will be the focal point of the passing attack. Hill will be used as a runner and perhaps gadget receiver in open space, while the other tight ends will be expected to block and be an occasional short yardage receiver.
Tennessee running back Adrian Peterson (8) is hit by New Orleans Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander (5) for a loss. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY
It was a surprise to many that the Saints did not re-sign the athletic Alexander this offseason. That does remain a possibility, but the team is placing greater expectations on the shoulders of second-year LB Pete Werner to excel alongside All-Pro Demario Davis. Kaden Elliss will be the third linebacker and the Saints spent a fifth-round choice on promising LB D'Marco Jackson. They also added experienced depth by signing Eric Wilson.
Elliss is a strong defender in the tackle box, but can be a liability in coverage. Jackson was an aggressive and athletic playmaker in college, but unproven at the pro level. Wilson led Minnesota in tackles in 2020, but lost his starting job with Philadelphia last season.
Barr, Whitehead, and Wright have all significantly slowed down over the back part of their careers. Hitchens, McKinney, and Schobert are also onetime starters, but lost their jobs late last season. Schobert was given a tryout by New Orleans during mini-camp.
The Saints often employ just two linebackers in many of their defensive alignments, thereby asking a lot from the players manning the position.
After a promising rookie campaign, Werner is expected to take the next step in his development. Jackson is a Demario Davis-clone in terms of athleticism, coverage ability, and aggression. Elliss and Wilson are expected to provide quality depth.
Barring injury or regression from Werner, it seems unlikely that the Saints sign another veteran linebacker. If they do, it would almost certainly be Alexander if he's still available. Alexander is the youngest of the top two-way linebackers still available, knows the system, and has an outstanding chemistry with Davis.
Linebacker and running back are currently two areas of concern for New Orleans because they lack proven depth. However, the young players behind the starting stars will get reps to develop early in training camp. Only if they show that they aren't up to the task will the Saints explore the option of bringing in a free-agent veteran. 
Covers the New Orleans Saints as contributing writer for Saints News Network. Co-Host of the Bayou Blitz Podcast.

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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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