Funny thing about ranking offseason needs – they tend to change as the year goes on.
There’s no better example than the New Orleans Saints decision to draft offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk with the No. 32 pick in last year’s draft, even though they already had two established starters in Terron Armstead and Zach Strief, plus a great “Plan B” option in left guard Andrus Peat.
Sure enough, Armstead and Strief wound up missing a total of 22 games because of injuries in 2017, including the playoffs. And the Saints needed Ramczyk to play every single snap of the entire season while starting games at both left tackle and right tackle – making him almost as valuable as Rookie of the Year winners Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore.
So take it with a grain of salt that I’m listing offensive tackle all the way down at No. 9 in my position-by-position ranking of New Orleans’ offseason needs.
I have it ranked that low because the Saints don’t need to make any major investments in free agency or the draft, with Armstead and Ramczyk set as the projected starters and Peat still available to slide over to left tackle when needed.
But the Saints absolutely need to add some depth and insurance – especially since there is a good chance Strief will retire and Armstead has been plagued by injuries for the past three years.
Current depth chart:
Terron Armstead. Age 26, signed through 2021. 2018 salary and bonuses: $10.3 million. 2018 salary-cap number: $13.5 million.
Ryan Ramczyk. Age 23, signed through 2020 (Saints can exercise fifth-year tender on him through 2021). 2018 salary and bonuses: $869,173. 2018 salary-cap number: $2.02 million.
Zach Strief. Age 34, signed through 2018. 2018 salary and bonuses: $4 million. 2018 salary-cap number: $5.1 million.
Bryce Harris. Age 29, unrestricted free agent.
This position hinges completely on Armstead’s health. When healthy (or even when 80-90 percent), he is one of the best left tackles in the NFL, which is why New Orleans locked him up with a contract extension worth $13 million per year in 2016.
Unfortunately, Armstead has been plagued by a series of knee, hip and shoulder injuries – missing a total of 18 games over the past three seasons and playing hurt in most of the others.
Armstead has proved his worth by playing through the pain at such a high level. But he and the Saints would still love to see how dominant he could become if he ever gets close to full health, and he insisted that this will finally be the year after he has traveled the globe trying to get right.
If Armstead can stay in the lineup consistently then the Saints are also set with Pro Bowl-caliber talent in Peat at left guard and Ramczyk at right tackle. Both Peat and Ramczyk have shown tremendous versatility by bouncing around positions – but obviously they’d be even more effective if they can stay put in one place.
Peat was a first-round draft pick in 2015, and he was originally expected to play right tackle before left guard/left tackle proved to be a better fit. New Orleans has the makings of one of the best offensive lines in the entire NFL, along with Pro Bowl right guard Larry Warford and two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger.
The Saints will need to add depth, though – especially since versatile backup guard/center/tackle Senio Kelemete is an unrestricted free agent. It seems unlikely that they’ll spend big on an offensive tackle in free agency or use their first-round pick on one. But they could add a cheaper veteran and use a mid-round pick at the position.