Marcus Williams (S)

Saints Want To Keep S Marcus Williams

Facing a historic cap crunch, the Saints will still try to retain one of their own marquee free agents. They intend to prioritize safety Marcus Williams, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

Two weeks before the start of the legal tampering period, the Saints are a staggering $69MM-plus over a projected $180MM cap. The franchise has continually faced difficult cap situations, only to navigate them and still manage to bolster its roster — as it did last year via Emmanuel Sanders and Malcolm Jenkins. But this year’s situation presents a final boss-type challenge for New Orleans’ front office.

No other team is within $25MM of the Saints’ present payroll obligations, with the Eagles residing as the league’s only other franchise more than $40MM over the projected cap. The Saints will go through an eventful two weeks to comply with the cap, though the NFL’s in-progress TV deals could help the organization to a degree. It is not certain yet where the 2021 cap will land, which has halted NFL activity to a degree.

Part of one of the best draft classes any team has put together in many years, Williams has been a starter since arriving in the 2017 third round. Pro Football Focus has graded him as a top-eight player at his position in three of his four seasons, including 2020. While 2017 draft classmate Trey Hendrickson figures to have a market as well, Williams has reeled off a much longer run of production with the Saints. Mickey Loomis has acknowledged keeping Hendrickson will be tough.

Williams stands as one of the league’s top free agents, with he and Justin Simmons perhaps residing as the top safeties available. The Broncos are set to make Simmons unavailable, via the franchise tag, which would take a key target off the board. The Jets are also likely to take Marcus Maye off the market via the tag. While other safeties may well be available — from Anthony Harris to Keanu Neal to John Johnson — Williams may be the top prize at this position, should he hit the market. As PFR’s Rory Parks noted recently, a Williams tag — in the $10MM vicinity — will be off the table, meaning the Saints would need to have him extended by March 15 to avoid the talented defender negotiating with other teams.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Marcus Williams

Though he has yet to earn a Pro Bowl nomination, the Saints’ Marcus Williams has established himself as one of the best young safeties in the NFL. A member of New Orleans’ loaded 2017 draft class that also included Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara, and Trey Hendrickson, Williams’ presence in the secondary has been instrumental in the Saints’ defensive success over his first four years in the league.

Williams, a free safety, is a prototypical centerfielder and ball-hawker whose one true weakness coming into the 2020 season was his tackling ability. But he made great strides in that regard, as Pro Football Focus charged him with just two missed tackles last year. PFF ranked Williams as the seventh-best safety in the game in 2020, and while it was especially bullish on his run defense, he also scored well in coverage.

Between that and his playmaking abilities — he has recorded 13 interceptions and 30 passes defensed over his first four years in the league — Williams will be a hot commodity if the Saints let him hit the open market. And New Orleans might not have a choice. The club’s salary cap problems have been well-documented, and we heard over the weekend that re-signing Hendrickson — whose 13.5 sacks were the second-most in the NFL last season — may not be possible.

The same goes for Williams. The Utah product will justifiably be aiming for the top of the safety market, which is currently headed by the Cardinals’ Budda Baker‘s $14.75MM average annual value. The Bears’ Eddie Jackson ($14.6MM) and the Titans’ Kevin Byard ($14.1MM) are not too far behind in terms of AAV, and all three players landed guarantees north of $30MM. Theoretically, GM Mickey Loomis could backload a Williams contract in an effort to fit him under the 2021 salary cap, but Loomis will have a number of difficult decisions to make, and even a backloaded deal might be too rich for the Saints at this point.

It seems that the franchise tag, which would carry a projected value of about $10.5MM, is definitely out of the question since the Saints would need to carry that entire amount on their cap in 2021. So if the Saints can’t bring back Williams, where might he end up?

The Raiders are one obvious potential landing spot. Las Vegas recently hired Gus Bradley as its new DC, and Bradley was one of the architects of the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom secondary that saw Earl Thomas playing centerfield against opposing offenses. The Raiders’ offense is in pretty good shape, and after a series of straightforward cuts, they will have enough cap space to sign a quality free agent or two. Williams would team with Johnathan Abram to form a young and talented safety tandem.

The Lions and Jaguars were the two worst teams in the league in 2020 in terms of total defense, and while both clubs are very much in the rebuilding phase, Williams is young enough that he could still be a part of the next competitive outfits in Detroit or Jacksonville. Those teams have plenty of areas of need, but a strong back-end defender is a worthwhile target for any defense.

One way or another, Williams is about to get paid. He might not be the most talked-about FA at this point, but assuming the Saints don’t hit him with the franchise tag, he will be one of the first players off the board when free agency officially opens next month.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Saints Sign Rookie CB Marshon Lattimore

The Saints have officially signed first round pick Marshon Lattimore, according to a team announcement. Second round safety Marcus Williams and third round running back Alvin Kamara have also put pen to paper. Marshon Lattimore (Vertical)

There was tons of trade speculation surrounding the Saints on draft night, but they stood pat at No. 11 and drafted a player who many see as the best cornerback in this year’s class. Lattimore, an Ohio State product, finished his collegiate career with 46 tackles (34 solo), one stop for a loss, four interceptions and 16 passes defensed. In his final year on campus, Lattimore was a first-team All-Big Ten selection and proved to scouts everywhere that he can succeed at the next level.

I’ve studied the top cornerbacks coming out and he’s the best I’ve seen,” one pro personnel director for an AFC team told NFL.com before the draft. “He’s so athletic that he can just post up under the receiver’s chin and shadow him all over the field. And he’s tough, too. He’ll be one of the top cornerbacks pretty quickly.”

The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Kamara was a dual threat as a member of the Volunteers, with whom he averaged 6.2 yards per rush, caught 74 passes, and combined for 23 touchdowns over two seasons. Now, he’ll be learning from the best as he backs up both Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. Kamara split carries with Jalen Hurd at Tennessee, so he’s no stranger to a timeshare.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Meet With 21 NFL Draft Prospects

The Cowboys have now used more than two-thirds of their 30 allotted predraft visits, and Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link), Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com (Twitter link), and Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News have provided the list of prospects with whom Dallas has met:

The Cowboys’ visits with Michigan DE Taco Charlton, UCLA DE Takkarist McKinley, UConn S Obi Melifonwu, UCLA CB Fabian Moreau, and Wisconsin LB T.J. Watt had all been previously reported.

Draft Rumors: Mahomes, Kizer, Thomas

Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who could go anywhere from the top of the first round to the second round in this year’s draft, is drawing interest from three teams with aging franchise signal-callers. A Chargers contingent consisting of head coach Anthony Lynn, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen put Mahomes through a private workout in Lubbock, Texas, last week, reports Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. The Bolts have a starting passer in Philip Rivers, but he’ll be 36 in December, so they’ll at least consider taking a QB early. The club is set to pick seventh and 38th in the first two rounds.

New Orleans, meanwhile, has a 38-year-old under center in Drew Brees, meaning there’s more urgency for the club to find its next passer than there is for the Chargers. With that in mind, Saints head coach Sean Payton, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and members of the team’s front office traveled to Lubbock to work out Mahomes on Tuesday, according to NFL.com. “They said every time they see me under center, I look better and better,” Mahomes said of the Saints, who currently own three of the draft’s first 45 selections (Nos. 11, 32 and 42).

The Cardinals, who are led by 37-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer, attended a Mahomes workout on Thursday, relays Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Owner Michael Bidwill and head coach Bruce Arians were on hand for the Cards, who hold the 13th and 45th selections in the opening two rounds.

More of the latest on the upcoming draft:

  • Even though the Bears handed quarterback Mike Glennon a significant contract in free agency, they aren’t necessarily content under center. Evidence: The club is likely to conduct a private workout with Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer next week, tweets Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com ranks Kizer as the 33rd-best player in this year’s class, which could make him a possibility for the Bears in Round 2 (No. 36).
  • The Panthers had a meeting with Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas on Thursday, per Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (Twitter link). Thomas figures to come off the board quickly and might be gone by the time Carolina’s on the clock at No. 8.
  • The Bills have scheduled a private April workout with Pittsburgh quarterback Nathan Peterman, the player told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Earlier this year, one scout informed Matt Miller of Bleacher Report that Peterman has a chance to pull a Dak Prescott and go from a mid-round pick to a viable starter as a rookie.
  • A Saints representative had dinner with Utah free safety Marcus Williams on Wednesday, writes Herbie Teope of NOLA.com. Williams is a ballhawk “who will make plays in the passing game, but he needs to improve in run support,” observes Jeremiah, who ranks him as this year’s 47th-best draft-eligible player.