NFL New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints: 5 Free Agents Who Must Be Re-Signed

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New Orleans Saints Have Questions to Answer During Offseason

New Orleans Saints
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Despite the fact that the New Orleans Saints were just knocked out of the NFL Playoffs, there is no doubting that head coach Sean Payton and company have already gone back to work. After all, any day taken off is a lost opportunity in today's NFL, and the Saints will have to work extremely hard to replicate their 13-3 regular season record of 2013.

While the Saints will have opportunities to better their team through the 2014 NFL Draft, free agency and the waiver wire, there is no doubting that the most important moves the team will make will be who they decide to keep from their 2013 team. With 22 free agents due to come off the books when free agency begins on March 11 and a roster that already sits at $12 million over the expected $126 million salary cap in 2014, it is clear that the team will have to be frugal when doling out new deals.

Of course, the Saints will have a few players either restructure their contracts -- Drew Brees has shown a willingness to do this -- or be let out the door to bring this cap number down, but money will surely be hard to come by in New Orleans this offseason. Still, there are certain players on the Saints who will have to come back in order for them to once again win 13 regular season games. With that in mind, I have formed a list of the five free agents the team must re-sign.

Each of these players has a key role to play for the Saints organization either on or off the field (or both in some cases), and will undoubtedly be of great value if they are brought back.

Tyler Leli is a Washington Capitals writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter, "Like" him on Facebook or join his network on Google.

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5. Zach Strief

New Orleans Saints
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Right tackle Zach Strief has been a member of the Saints for his entire eight-year NFL career, and has been starting for the team regularly since the 2011 season. There is no doubting that protecting Drew Brees is of ultimate priority, and Strief has done a wonderful job of doing this during his career. Additionally, the fact that the right tackle only took in a cap hit of $2.575 million in 2013 and likely wouldn't earn much more in 2014 makes him a smart option financially.

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4. Luke McCown

New Orleans Saints
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With Drew Brees at the helm, it may seem incredulous that Luke McCown is truly needed as a backup option, but that ignores the realities of the NFL. No player -- even a quarterback -- is immune from injury, and it is necessary to ensure that the Saints are prepared in the case of an injury. While McCown may not be a Pro-Bowler any time soon, he would bring a steady arm in case of injury and a veteran presence to the locker room even without touching the field.

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3. Brian de la Puente

New Orleans Saints
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Brian de la Puente has been the starting center for the Saints since 2011 and has been nothing short of magnificent. The relationship of quarterback and center can be a tricky one, and keeping Brees and de la Puente together seem to be a must heading into 2014. If he can be brought back close to the $2.023 million he received in 2013, then this is an even easier decision to make.

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2. Malcolm Jenkins

New Orleans Saints
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The Saints' defense was one of the best in the NFL during the 2013 season, ranking fourth in points per game allowed and second in opposing passing yards. While part of this was due to the return of Sean Payton from a season-long suspension, the players on the team surely deserve credit. One of these players is Malcolm Jenkins, who was a force at safety in 2013, compiling 68 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. Not bringing back Jenkins would fundamentally change New Orleans' defense for the worse.

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1. Jimmy Graham

New Orleans Saints
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

When people looked around at the best tight ends in the NFL during the 2013 season, there is no doubting that Jimmy Graham was at the top. Graham led all tight ends with 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns, and was generally a behemoth that no linebacker, safety or cornerback could line up against. While bringing back the 27-year-old will cost a hefty penny, it is a must for the Saints in order to maintain their offensive dominance.