Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New Orleans Saints [Print without images]

Thursday, January 30, 2014
Ranking Saints needs: No. 8 TE/fullback

By Mike Triplett

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason -- ranked from 1-12 in order of the team’s need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

TE Jimmy Graham. Age 27, unrestricted free agent.

FB Jed Collins. Age 27, restricted free agent.

TE Benjamin Watson. Age 33, signed through 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $1.3 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $1.7 million.

TE Josh Hill. Age 23, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $495,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $496,666.

Analysis:

First of all, the reason that I lumped these two positions together is because the Saints typically lump them together when shaping their roster. A lot of times their backup tight ends serve as backup fullbacks as well.

Secondly, I realize that I screwed up this ranking. I should have either ranked it No. 1 or further down the list at No. 11 or No. 12. I think re-signing Graham is the Saints’ No. 1 priority this offseason -- more important than adding reinforcements at any other position. However, I don’t think there’s any real risk of losing him since the Saints will use the franchise tag to keep him if needed.

And assuming the Saints do keep both Graham and restricted free agent Collins, I think they’re pretty well stocked at both positions going forward.

I’ve written extensively on Graham this month -- on whether he should be considered a tight end or receiver; on why I think he’s worthy of “receiver money” regardless; and on how I think the negotiations will most likely play out.

The bottom line is that I consider Graham the second most important player on the Saints’ roster behind quarterback Drew Brees. So it’s essential that they work out a long-term deal that makes everyone happy this offseason (which I believe will eventually happen -- but it may take a while).

I also expect the Saints to lock up Collins. They’ll probably have to offer him a one-year restricted free-agent tender worth more than $2 million to guarantee he doesn’t get away. But he’s worth it, even though the Saints are a pass-first team. Collins was playing exceptionally well down the stretch as a lead blocker in the run game. Perhaps they’ll aim for a long-term contract extension instead.

Watson is an ideal backup. He’s solid as a receiver, a blocker and a veteran leader -- and most importantly, he comes with an affordable price tag. And the Saints are high on Hill, who played extensively as an undrafted rookie this past season. Hill had his highs and lows during the year. But the team obviously showed trust in him, which bodes well for his future development.