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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
John Sigler

PFF names free agent Saints can least afford to lose in 2023

Who is the most important free agent for the New Orleans Saints in 2023? Which player is indispensable? Tight end Juwan Johnson is a good pick, and there’s a case for linebacker Kaden Elliss or defensive tackle David Onyemata. There’s even a less-convincing case to be made for quarterback Andy Dalton. But the team at Pro Football Focus has a suggestion. PFF salary cap analyst Brad Spielberger says it’s veteran defensive end Marcus Davenport, writing:

“Davenport has struggled to stay on the field throughout his five years with the Saints, but if he leaves in free agency, they’ll have very little talent to speak off on the edge outside of a 34-year-old Cameron Jordan on the final year of his contract, with 2021 first-round pick edge defender Payton Turner a healthy scratch for much of his second season.

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Over the past three seasons, Davenport’s 19.0% pass-rush win rate ranks 14th and his 14.2% pressure rate ranks 17th among edge defenders. The Saints simply cannot give up that level of pass-rush productivity because he’s played only about 475 snaps a season — that is, unless his asking price takes him out of consideration, which is entirely possible.”

Davenport was demoted late in the 2022 season after more-productive players like Carl Granderson got ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s always graded out well as a pressure player at PFF but his struggles in finishing pressures with sacks was a real problem last year. It’s easier to argue that Davenport is coming off the worst year of his pro career than it is to say the Saints can’t afford to let him leave town.

Sure, they need more help off the edge at defensive end. Are we sure Davenport is helping in that area? He had half a sack in 2022. If the Saints are going to invest a hefty contract in a defensive end opposite Jordan, there are probably safer picks than Davenport. His extensive injury history and lack of production is a real concern.

It would make sense to bring him back at a sensible rate but he’ll be able to seek top dollar in free agency from teams with more money to throw around than New Orleans. One squad to watch out for? The Atlanta Falcons, who just hired Davenport’s position coach Ryan Nielsen as defensive coordinator, and who are estimated to rank second-best in the NFL with more than $51 million in salary cap space to spend.

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