This continues our four part series on position groups the Saints are targeting in Free Agency. Check out our Saints Free Agent HQ for breakdowns of the DE,G, and CB targets for the team.
The linebacker position, much like the Saints need at defensive end, is nearly a critical ‘must have’ in free agency. It wouldn’t be hard to argue that this is the position with the biggest void in talent on the team.
Hau’oli Kikaha showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie season before being sidelined all of 2016 with an injury, and Craig Robertson proved to be a valuable pick up in 2016 free agency, providing solid contributions at all three linebacker spots.
The rest of the group? It’s hard to find much optimism. Danelle Ellerbe has been injury prone in his two seasons with the team. Former first round pick Stephone Anthony barely saw the field last season, a dreadful sign for a player they thought would be a fixture at MLB for the next decade.
This is a position that the Saints much address now if they expect to contend in 2017. While the draft provides from intriguing options throughout the first two rounds, there are plenty of players in free agency that would immediately transform the team’s linebacking corps.
Dont’a Hightower - New England Patriots – 26 years old
Hightower is perhaps the Saints biggest target in all of free agency. He is a versatile linebacker, rushing the passer on nearly 30% of his snaps while still being extremely valuable in both pass coverage and run defense. In short, he is one of the most valuable assets on the entire NFL free agent market this season. It’s likely the Patriots won’t offer him the money other teams can, so unless Hightower takes less money to stay on the league’s best team he will sign elsewhere. Why not New Orleans?
Zach Brown - Buffalo Bills - 27 years old
Brown was a solid contributor to an underperforming Buffalo defense in 2016. He put together his best year as a pro ith 149 tackles, 4 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss. Brown would bring a great veteran presence to the locker room, and you could count on solid contributions at any one of the linebacker positions. That versatility, and stability, makes him a prime target for many linebacker needy franchises. However, his best fit would be a role player alongside a true impact playmaker at MLB. The Saints don’t have that yet, so if they sign Brown they would need to sign or draft other players to fill that role.
Lorenzo Alexander – Buffalo Bills – 33 years old
Alexander is almost the perfect antithesis to a reliable, and young, Zach Brown. Not that Alexander isn’t good. He’s coming off the best season of his 10 year career, at age 33 nonetheless, making a run at the league’s sack title with 12.5. His age, and history, makes it unlikely that Alexander would be called on to be an every down back wherever he signs. His best role would be a nickel package edge rusher on a team with linebacker depth. That isn’t the Saints, so while his 2016 sack total will catch most people’s eye, it’s unlikely the Saints would see him as a good fit unless his market value plummets to true bargain territory. Still, if it’s late March and he’s still available, and the Saints still have cap space, this could be an intriguing target.
Gerald Hodges – San Francisco 49ers – 26 years old
Hodges carved out a nice role in San Francisco as a run stopping inside linebacker that has developed into an average coverage guy. The big upside here is his age. At only 26 years old he is just entering his prime and still has upside. Hodges is exactly the kind of mid-level free agent that Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have typically gone after at the position in free agency.
The best thing I can say about Gerald Hodges (51) is that he's a pretty sure tackler. But his instincts are a shade off. He's more of a SLB pic.twitter.com/rwzwFMTWFk
Kevin Minter – Arizona Cardinals – 26 years old
Many people, especially in Arizona, try to paint Minter’s tenure with the team as a disappointment. Perhaps they expected the former second round pick to develop into a star, which he hasn’t, but his last two seasons have been very productive. Minter had 94 tackles in 2015, and 81 in 2016. He also posted his career high sack total at 2.5 in 2016. A young player with still plenty of upside, Minter should get a prove-it type of one or two year deal from a team with a need at linebacker.