The New Orleans Saints have consistently ranked among the best in the league offensively under head coach Sean Payton. However, 2021 may end up serving as an outlier on Payton's resume. The Saints had a revolving door of linemen, quarterbacks, and wide receivers. This recipe resulted in one of the league's worst-rated offenses of the season.
However, there were some bright spots for New Orleans throughout the year. Before Jameis Winston's injury, he looked like the real deal behind a stellar offensive line, and Alvin Kamara played at a Pro-Bowl level yet again.
So how do we access this season for the Saints Offense? Was it a success? Far from it... But Sean Payton and the company learned some valuable lessons and proved this team is still set up for success when healthy.
Here are three takeaways from the Saints' Offense during the 2021-22 NFL Season.
Failing to Address the Wide Receiver Position Proved to be the Wrong Decision
Headed into the 2021 NFL Offseason, New Orleans faced a mountain of negative cap space, and though they were able to erase the $100M figure to get under the Salary Cap, it came at a price. A price that included the team's leading receiver from 2020, Emmanuel Sanders.
The veteran wide-out would sign with the Bills and left New Orleans with a significant hole at WR 2. The Black and Gold ultimately opted to stick with the guys already on the roster (Callaway, Smith, Harris) to fill that need, including Michael Thomas, rehabbing an ankle injury.
Unfortunately for the Saints, Thomas' rehab resulted in a shut-down season, and Tre'Quan Smith missed multiple weeks with a preseason injury. Vaulting Callaway and Harris (Now Harty) into starting roles, a big ask for two UDFAs.
Overall, the pairing put together a modest season considering their expected role to the one they played (I expect both to be big parts of the Saints offense for years to come). But throughout the season, New Orleans receivers could not create separation, dropped passes, and could never find a steady dose of consistency to help manufacture points.
Sean Payton consistently told the media he "liked" the guys they have in the locker room, and though he may have liked them, they did not produce what the Saints needed. A steady veteran may not have solved all the problems for the receiving corps this year, but it could have given them a nice boost.
Injuries to the O-Line Hurt More than the Injuries at Quarterback
With multiple Pro-Bowl selections across the offensive line, the Saints have one of the best O-lines in the NFL.... well, when they are healthy, that was the team's Achilles heel in 2021. It is now well documented that the Saints set a new NFL record this season, starting 58 different players. Still, the offensive line was the one unit that never seemed to be fully healthy or have consistency/cohesion.
New Orleans suffered blow after blow throughout the regular season to their star-studded unit. The list included injuries to former Pro-Bowl selections Andrus Peat, Ryan Ramczyk, and Terron Armstead. The constant shuffling of the men fighting "in the trenches" created problems for the Saints in multiple phases. In addition, sprinkle in multiple quarterbacks during the season on top, and you have a perfect storm for an offense.
The O-line struggles were highlighted in games against Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Miami but hidden as well as possible in a handful of other outings. Whether it was Alvin Kamar, Taysom Hill, or any one of the multiple members of the Black and Gold that lined up in the backfield this season, time and pace were hard to come by. Thus resulting in short stretches of offensive success and only one opening drive touchdown during the year.
Sean Payton told FOX Sports before heading into Week 18 that losing his starting tackles was the most complex injury to overcome during the year. It became evident when Ramczyk returned how to correct Payton was about the o-line. Just having one of the two back made a world of difference, and one can only wonder how the script would have changed if both were healthy.
Quarterback Remains a Big Question Mark
For the first time since the 1999 regular season, the New Orleans Saints started four different quarterbacks in a season. Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill, and Ian Book combined to give the Saints a winning record this season. Despite only Hill and Winston producing winning efforts, albeit in very different ways, the Saints' offense struggled for the majority of the year for the reasons listed above and more.
With Winston's ACL injury and Taysom Hill's new hybrid contract, the Saints will enter 2022 with just as many questions as they did in 2021. Currently, only Hill and Book are quarterbacks under contract for next season if you do not include Blake Bortles' futures contract signed earlier this week.
Before the injury, Jameis Winston propelled the Saints to a 5-2 record, including wins against the Packers and Patriots, putting the Saints in the middle of the NFC South title chase and an NFC playoff spot. Now entering free agency, Winston finds himself in a difficult point in his career and will soon see how much Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis believe he could be the franchise's starting quarterback long term.
Time will tell if the Saints starting quarterback in 2022 is on the current roster or if the Saints make a splash play in free agency or the draft. No one thought replacing Drew Brees would be easy, but certainly, no one was prepared for what the 2021 NFL season brought for the Saints.
Expect New Orleans to be aggressive in the quarterback market this offseason but do not be surprised if Winston is back under center for New Orleans next season.
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