Saints free agent report card: Was Marcus Maye a good veteran signing?

Was Marcus Maye a good veteran signing? The New Orleans Saints made him a priority after losing longtime starter Marcus Williams to the Baltimore Ravens early in the free agent signing period, and though he missed time with injuries he brought qualities no one else in the Saints secondary could match in 2022.

It remains to be seen how large a role Maye will play in 2023 — he’s been awaiting a DUI suspension since the 2021 offseason, and he has long-lasting injury concerns — but his contract structure suggests he’ll remain in the Saints’ plans moving forward. But should they be looking for his replacement anyway? Let’s recap his 2022 season on our free agent report card:

Free agent contract

Maye signed a three-year, $22.5 million with the Saints that guaranteed him $14.5 million. Almost half of those guarantees came in the form of a $6 million signing bonus which was spread out through the remaining years of his contract as well as two ghost years that will void automatically in 2025, leaving behind $2.4 million in dead money. That’s unless the Saints restructure his deal this offseason — he carries a salary cap hit of more than $8.4 million, most of which is tied into a $5.8 million roster bonus. It seems likely they’ll restructure that into another signing bonus to spread out the cap hits. Trading Maye is also an option as it would save $3.6 million against the cap if completed before June 1. There’s no scenario where an outright release makes sense financially.

Snap counts

Maye was limited to just 669 defensive snaps in 2022 (59.1% of the total) due to injuries, with a shoulder injury sidelining him for the final three weeks after a rib injury kept him out of three games earlier in the season. His injury history stretches back to his time with the New York Jets. Maye’s 2021 season ended in Week 9 with a torn Achilles, and in 2018 he missed the first three games with a foot injury before a broken thumb and a shoulder issue kept him in and out of the lineup to close out the season.

Season stats

Maye was officially credited with 60 tackles (42 solo) and a pair of passes defensed in 2022, as well as a forced fumble. He was only penalized once, for defensive pass interference, in the season-opener. Pro Football Focus had Maye with 5 missed tackles whereas Pro Football Reference says he only missed once. He was dependable in that regard but he didn’t bring the same playmaking ability the Saints missed from Williams.

Pro Football Focus grade

Maye was highly regarded at PFF for his tackling (a grade of 79.3) and pass coverage skills (71.3), also rating out as an above-average run defender (67.2). But a poor grade as a pass rusher on just 5 snaps (54.6) dropped him to an overall rating of 71.8, which is still fair.

PFR charged Maye with allowing 12 completions (from 18 targets) for just 98 receiving yards last season, but PFF disagrees and says he allowed just 7 receptions (13 targets) for 74 yards. Either way, he was New Orleans’ best defender deep downfield and no other player in the secondary brings the sideline-to-sideline range that he offers. He was an important part of the Saints pass defense tightening up at midseason to become a strength of the team.

Season recap, future outlook

We’re kind of in an odd spot with Maye. His injury history can’t be ignored. Neither can his legal issues (in addition to the DUI case in Florida, he was arrested in Jefferson Parrish for a road rage incident), which are likely to lead to a suspension in 2023. His contract status makes it tough for the Saints to go in another direction. And he hasn’t been quite the playmaker they hoped for.

What about the positives? Maye’s athleticism is a real asset that New Orleans can’t match with anyone else currently on the roster. On the field he’s a clean player who avoids penalties and missed tackles or coverage busts. There isn’t much to complain about there. It just comes back to his availability, and the multiple question marks on that front have us looking hard at safeties in the 2023 draft class. Maye should start again in the fall, but the Saints need a long-term plan at this position.

Season grade

Unfortunately this has to come back to the negatives, and there were too many of those for Maye in his first year on the team. Multiple injuries took him out of the lineup for too long, and when he was available he wasn’t proving to be the ballhawk the Saints paid him to be. He’s a steady player when he’s dressing out, and right now his skills set guarding the furthest reaches of the field isn’t replicable for New Orleans. That doesn’t mean they’re getting good value out of this contract. Maye has a lot to prove in 2023.

Grade: D

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire