No member of the New Orleans Saints 2021 free agency class has performed as well as Trey Hendrickson through the first five weeks. He’s bagged 4.5 sacks already, tying his career-best and tying J.J. Watt for the fifth-most in the NFL. Pro Football Focus credits him with a team-leading 18 pressures.
At one point in Monday night’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers (in which Hendrickson created 6 pressures, including 1.5 sacks), Hendrickson returned to the Saints sideline and told Cameron Jordan that he was being assigned extra blockers by the offense. Jordan smiled and replied, “Welcome to that life.”
Before the season started, Hendrickson was one of the pending free agents we figured would slip through the cracks as the Saints work to re-sign higher priorities like Marcus Williams, Sheldon Rankins, Jared Cook, and Jameis Winston.
But the fourth-year pass rusher has been prolific. The Saints have had to wait on starting end Marcus Davenport to get healthy — and he rewarded them by notching 3 pressures on just 15 snaps against L.A. — and Hendrickson has done a lot to help get them through that stall. He should be one of New Orleans’ top priorities in the spring, if not sooner (though in-season extensions are rare for the Saints).
And he’ll command quite a payday. Hendrickson has the second-lowest average annual salary of all Saints players hitting free agency in the spring; he isn’t going to take a hometown discount. Projecting a new deal for him is difficult because he’s only have a year-and-a-half or so of real production, with just 81 career pressures.
For context, franchise tagged defenders with similar 2020 stats all have larger bodies of work: look at Shaquil Barrett (213), Bud Dupree (203), and Matthew Judon (182). There isn’t much of a happy medium between Hendrickson’s current bargain-bin contract and the top-shelf pass rushers.
Here’s the full list, ranked by their current salaries. Who would you choose to re-sign first? Who should be allowed to walk?