38 Saints players are currently slated for free agency in 2023, ranging from Marcus Davenport and David Onyemata to Marquez Callaway and Tony Jones Jr.:
Few teams stay busy like the New Orleans Saints. Their unorthodox salary cap maneuvering means every move is part of a larger plan, with possible ramifications accounted for months and years down the road. And with 38 of the 90 players currently under contract headed for free agency after the 2022 season, via Over The Cap, it’s good to keep tabs on who may not be long for New Orleans.
Let’s remember that there are a couple of different free agent designations. The vast majority of players (including 28 of the Saints’ 38 pending free agents) will be unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year. Those with three seasons’ worth of experience will be restricted free agents (including Saints players like wide receiver Marquez Callaway and punter Blake Gillikin), which gets a little complicated but typically means New Orleans will have the opportunity to match any offers from other teams. And those with two years or fewer behind them (like offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton and running back Tony Jones Jr.) will be considered exclusive rights free agents, who the Saints can retain at non-compete minimum salaries.
Additionally, three players — defensive linemen Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, and Tanoh Kpassagnon — are on track to see the void years written in through contract restructures expire in the spring. That will make them unrestricted free agents, unless the team signs them to extensions beforehand. And because the Saints restructured those deals they would leave behind a whopping total of $19.6 million for Onyemata ($10.1 million), Davenport ($7.6 million), and Kpassagnon ($1.9 million) in dead money that was previously moved around. So we should expect at least one or two of them to re-up with New Orleans before next March, which would help keep good players in the lineup and blunt any salary cap damage.
So with all of that said: here are the 38 Saints players who are on track to be pending free agents once the 2022 season is in the books.
Several Saints players rank among the Athletic’s top 30 free agents for 2023:
The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia put together a list of the top 30 pending free agents for 2023, and several New Orleans Saints players made the cut. That feels ominous after the team parted with two of their highly-rated free agents this offseason in free safety Marcus Williams and left tackle Terron Armstead, but each situation is different, and it’s possible the Saints act more aggressively to retain homegrown talent.
Defensive end Marcus Davenport is the highest-rated Saints player on Kapadia’s lists of pending free agents, ranked at No. 20 overall. His take on Davenport ahead of the 2022 season:
“He’s coming off a career season in which he produced nine sacks and 16 quarterback hits in 11 games. Durability has been an issue for Davenport. He’s missed 17 games in four NFL seasons. But young, versatile pass rushers with upside are always in demand. Davenport is another player who has a lot to gain with a strong 2022 showing.”
Kapadia also listed Saints center Erik McCoy at No. 25, making him the best pending free agent at his position. Here’s what he wrote of McCoy:
“He’s one of the best young centers in the NFL. McCoy has started 44 games in three seasons. He did not allow a sack on 433 pass block reps last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Currently, the top centers make between $13 million and $14 million per year. Given his age, McCoy could top that if he delivers a strong showing in 2022.”
But these aren’t the only Saints free agents to monitor for 2023. Other starters like defensive tackles David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle, defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and wide receiver Deonte Harty are each headed for unrestricted free agency. There will also be restricted free agents to deal with including wide receiver Marquez Callaway and punter Blake Gillikin.
New Orleans knows this. The Saints have been preparing for it. They’re currently over the projected 2023 salary cap (estimated at $225 million) by more than $33 million, but they can roll over a lot of this year’s unspent $19 million to wear that down. They’ve been drafting project players early like defensive end Payton Turner and center-guard convert Cesar Ruiz in case some higher-profile talents move on. They can also restructure some contracts to get under the cap in a hurry, as they’ve done before, if they so choose. The point is that the Saints have flexibility to do what they want.