New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs for 36 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half of a divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Saints won 20-14.

The NFL's free agency period begins on Wednesday.

Sean Payton, speaking to the media at the NFL combine two weeks ago, talked about some of the key needs for the Saints.

Here's a look at some of the top free agents available at some of the key positions the New Orleans Saints covet most.

Tight end

The need: Of the 381 total receptions the Saints had last season, 89 were by tight ends. Of those 89 catches, 46 were caught by Ben Watson, who is retiring. With Watson not returning, the position is easily the biggest hole on the roster. Fortunately, the draft class is deep at the position, which means the Saints could try to find some help via that route despite not having an abundance of picks.

Best free agent available: Jared Cook. The Raiders TE is coming off a huge year where he caught a career-high 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns. But the price is surely to be steep for the durable Cook, who hasn't missed a game the past two seasons.

Bargain: Tyler Eifert. The Bengals tight end hasn't played more than eight games in a season since 2015, so teams aren't going to want to pay a lot for him. But he's productive when healthy if you want to take a gamble.

Others to watch: Austin Seferian Jenkins, Jaguars; Jesse James, Steelers

Defensive tackle

The need: Sheldon Rankins, who tore his Achilles in the playoffs, is expected to miss the first part of the season. Tyeler Davison is a free agent as well, so the Saints have to plan accordingly to solidify the middle for a unit that was rock solid this past season.

Best free agent available: Sheldon Richardson. You could have made a case here for DT Ndamakong Suh, who the Saints were eyeing this time a year ago before the Rams snatched him up. But Vikings DT Richardson, who has also played with the Jets and Seahawks, looks to be the head of the class. He recorded 49 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season on his 1-year deal with Minnesota.

Bargain: Muhammad Wilkerson, Packers. Wilkerson would be a bargain because of his ability to play as an end or tackle. With Alex Okafor also a free agent and Marcus Davenport still developing, the Saints could perhaps kill two birds with one stone by adding a versatile D-lineman like Wilkerson.

Others to watch: Suh, Rams; Timmy Jernigan, Eagles; Christian Covington, Texans.

Wide receiver

The need: We've beat this dead horse all season long, but the Saints will need someone not named Michael Thomas to be able to pose a threat in the receiving game. It's why the team signed both Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall last season. Ted Ginn Jr., when healthy, obviously helps. And Keith Kirkwood showed flashes. Tre'Quan Smith seemed to be a work in progress his rookie season.

Best free agent available: Now that Antonio Brown was traded from the Steelers to the Raiders, the best out there at a position that isn't exceptionally strong in free agency is Golden Tate. He didn't put up big numbers with the Eagles after being traded midseason from the Lions, but he's been productive throughout his career.

Bargain: Cole Beasley. The Cowboys receiver turns 30 in April, but he's been productive and probably has enough good years left in the tank for what figures to be the final few years of Drew Brees' career. He's a slot receiver who could complement Thomas. Getting WRs who want to come play with Brees is usually an easy sell.

Others to watch: Adam Humphries, Buccaneers; Donte Moncrief, Jaguars


The need: No, Drew Brees isn't hanging up his cleats. But the Saints always need a quality backup. The one they traded for last season, Teddy Bridgewater, is a free agent and could sign elsewhere with a chance to be a starter again. Sean Payton has said time and time again that they also like Taysom Hill. But the team needs to make sure they have a quality starter in case Brees gets injured.

Best free agent available: Nick Foles. Foles led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title during the 2017 season, saving the day after Carson Wentz was injured. He had another solid season this year in Wentz' absence. But Foles isn't trying to be a backup again, so coming to New Orleans seems highly unlikely.

Bargain: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ok, Saints fans saw Fitzpatrick light up the Saints in the season-opener last year. He got off to a sizzling start to the season in replacing Jameis Winston, who was suspended. He's serviceable as backup, which is pretty much all the Saints need at this point unless they are looking to find Brees' long-term replacement.

Others to watch: Ryan Griffin, Buccaneers; Tyrod Taylor, Browns


The need: With the Saints having let Kurt Coleman go, Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell are the only regulars left at the position. There are so many quality safeties available that the Saints may want to get it on the bidding and add a piece to the defensive puzzle.

Best free agent available: Ok, this is tough because the list reads like a Who's Who. But let's go with Landon Collins. The Giants safety from New Orleans makes plays all over the field. He was an All-Pro in 2016 and is expected to be back at 100 percent after missing the latter part of this past season with a rotator cuff surgery.

Bargain: Glover Quinn. The Lions safety just turned 33, but if the Saints want to go the veteran route like they did with Coleman, Quinn could be a good fit.

Others to watch: Such a deep position. Earl Thomas, Seahawks; Tyrann Mathieu, Texans; Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, Redskins; Lamarcus Joyner, Rams

Running back

The need: Easily the biggest question of free agency for the Saints will be Mark Ingram. The free agent has been a staple for the franchise for the past eight seasons. Payton has stated that the team would like to have him back. But some team looking for a back may be willing to pay more for a back who has been productive and despite being 29, doesn't have a lot of tread on his tires. If he goes elsewhere, the Saints would need to find someone to share the backfield with Alvin Kamara.

Best free agent available: Ok, that's easy. That would be Le'Veon Bell, arguably the best back in the league. The Steelers back sat out all of last season, so he should be ready to go. But the price tag for a game changer like Bell will be quite high.

Bargain: Jay Ajai. Running backs coming off ACL injuries like Ajai usually come a little cheaper. The Eagles running back rushes eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark back in 2016 and could be a steal for someone willing to take the risk on a back coming off a knee injury. Speaking of knees, would the Saints be willing to try Adrian Peterson again after the future Hall of Famer rushed for 1,042 yards last season with the Redskins.

Others to watch: Tevin Coleman, Falcons; C.J. Anderson, Rams

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.