With the Saints potentially losing their prized free safety, they may need to replace him on the cheap
If you’re a frequenter of this website, by sure you’ve read that New Orleans Saints star free safety Marcus Williams will be hitting free agency in the 2021 offseason. We here at Canal St. Chronicles believe that re-signing Marcus Williams should be the Saints’ top priority in this coming offseason (after that pesky problem of trying to find a quarterback), but we also recognize that’s not a given. This is mainly due to the Saints’ notable salary cap situation heading into this offseason along with the substantial price tag that Williams will likely carry for whichever team happens to sign him. That obstacle also brings in the fact that the Saints may not be able to get a like-for-like replacement for Williams in free agency, as any replacements for him will carry the same price tag as the Utah product. So, instead of trying to find a perfect replacement, the Saints may look to replace him on the cheap. This is about finding who that replacement could be.
Probably the riskiest, however most upside option on this list. Malik Hooker was a first round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2017 draft that saw the Saints landing Williams a round later. When he’s been on the field, Malik Hooker’s been as advertised. He has 7 interceptions and 4 pass breakups in his career and has allowed just an 86.2 career passer rating when targeted.
Plays like this are exactly what the Saints would be looking for out of a Williams replacement. Playing out of a 2-high safety set, Hooker tracks the QB’s eyes, reacts and punishes the overthrow with an interception. The exact type of play the Saints would want out of him. Hooker will likely also be cheap, for one very specific and worrying reason.
Malik Hooker has been crushed by injuries since the #Colts drafted him in 2017:
2017: Torn ACL, MCL
2018: Hip and foot injuries
2019: Torn meniscus
2020: Torn Achilles.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 21, 2020
Oh, so there’s the catch. Hooker has really only played one full season out of four in Indianapolis, his 2018 season where he played 14 games out of 16. Non-coincidentally, this was his best season with 2 interceptions, 2 pass-breakups, a career-low passer rating when targeted (60.2) and a career-high grade from Pro Football Focus (79.2). Hooker showcasing his ability as the elite free safety the Colts thought they were getting when they drafted him. If he could stay healthy, getting Hooker on a cheap deal would be an absolute steal and lessen the blow of losing Marcus Williams. However, with Hooker only playing 70 snaps in 2020 before succumbing to a torn achilles that he’s still recovering from, this one has the most potential to backfire.
Let’s all hope 2020 was a down year!
It was announced on Friday that the Carolina Panthers were releasing Boston after his second-stint with the Panthers. He’s spent five of the seven years of his career in Charlotte after playing college ball for four seasons at the University of North Carolina. During the first six years of his career Boston was quitely underrated as one of the better safeties in the NFL, however things took a nosedive in 2020 for the former Tar Heel. Boston was targeted 52 times in coverage for 36 receptions, giving up 319 yards and 3 touchdowns. Every single one of those numbers was a career-high. Not great!
What changed, you may ask. Well, Boston, a player who has roughly played 80% of his career snaps as a free safety, played 424 snaps in the box in 2020, the most he has played in the box since 2016 when he played 192. As it stands, Boston was playing a virtually different position half the time in 2020 compared to where he’s most comfortable and where he’s at his best. Boston was asked to play in a role with more man coverage rather than playing in a deep zone.
If the Saints added Boston to the team, they could let him focus on doing what he does best, being a rangey free safety instead of playing right up against the line of scrimmage. A three safety set of Malcolm Jenkins, Tre Boston and Chauncey C.J. Ceedy Duce Gardner-Johnson could help keep the defense on track and minimize the loss of Marcus Williams. So, what’s the catch?
Well, only three safeties missed as many tackles as Tre Boston last season, as he missed 16 total. His tackling has steadily gotten worse over the course of his career, setting a career-high in missed tackles every year of his career except for 2016. Then again, nobody’s perfect, and Boston will be asked to free range and intercept rather than make tackles at the LOS.
Tashaun Gipson Sr.
Probably the most realistic option on this list. Gipson is a solid yet unspectacular safety that’s bounced around the league since being picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Cleveland Browns in 2012. More of a hybrid safety type, he’s been played both in the box and as a free safety in his career. like he did this past season with the Chicago Bears. Gipson is another player that can play in that deep role in a 2-high system the Saints covet while also being able to drop into the box if needbe, similar to Malcolm Jenkins. While not a direct replacement, could help the Saints defense become more versatile at the cost of a bit of quality.
Plus, he picked off Matt Ryan last season, so he’s already in our good graces.
None of these players will be as good as Marcus Williams, but the Saints might not have a choice in the matter. Being able to replicate most of Williams’s production for a fraction of the cost should be the Saints’ goal when looking at any of these options.
Actually, let’s just pony up and pay Marcus Williams so we don’t have to worry about replacing him instead.
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