The Top Offseason Needs for the New Orleans Saints
Another season ended in disappointment for the New Orleans Saints, and now they enter the offseason with a lot of questions to answer. Most tend to get wrapped up in the draft process, but before that comes free agency. No matter how you look at it, there are glaring issues that the team should and could address before getting to both points, and they'll have to also shift around some cap space to be players in March.
Here's a few areas the teams can afford to get better at and address in 2020.
The problems the Saints have had at the wide receiver position just didn't happen. It's been evident since the 2017 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. Outside of Michael Thomas, the production has just not been there. The team has tried, taking a chance on players like Cameron Meredith, but it hasn't panned out. Quite simply put, this is a group that doesn't scare anyone outside of Thomas. To put Thomas' 1,725 receiving yards in the regular season in perspective, five combined receivers (Ted Ginn Jr., Tre'Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Austin Carr, and Krishawn Hogan) only managed 692 yards in 2019. Ginn Jr. was fourth on the team with 421 yards behind Alvin Kamara (533) and Jared Cook (705).
An ideal approach in New Orleans could see the team going after a legitimate WR2 in free agency and then drafting another strong receiver early in the draft. The Saints will likely lose Ginn Jr., as he is scheduled to become a free agent, and get back Keith Kirkwood to compete for a spot in 2020. Emmanuel Butler, who was an early standout in training camp last year, was brought back on a reserve/future deal with Tim White recently, and they'll also have Lil'Jordan Humphrey returning. The team also locked up Maurice Harris, who was a part of the receiver group to work out alongside Antonio Brown, on a reserve/future deal the other day. This is a spot the Saints have to get better at.
Left guard is the most glaring hole the Saints have to replace currently, as Andrus Peat is one of the many free agents the team will have to make a decision on. Since being drafted in 2015, the former first-rounder has never made it through a full regular season. In 2019, he appeared in just 10 games for the Saints due to a broken forearm.
Nick Easton was a nice breath of fresh air for New Orleans in his stead, and is going into the second year of his four-year deal that he signed last offseason. He likely would get the first crack at being the starter for 2020, but there's no financial guarantees tied to Easton for any of the remaining years of his deal. He'll count for $5.3 million against the cap this season. Will Clapp, who is used primarily in jumbo sets, will also get a chance to compete for the role, and you can't overlook a player like Cameron Tom (a restricted free agent) coming back easily to also bolster the competition.
Of course, you can't mention the offensive line without talking about the top salary cap hits. Left tackle Terron Armstead ($15.9 million) and Larry Warford ($12.875 million) are two of the top five cap hits in 2020 currently, and some potential financial decisions on their futures will be interesting to see. You absolutely could see New Orleans go in-house to help fill some of their voids, but some of that depth will need to be backfilled.
The secondary will undoubtedly need some help with the futures of Eli Apple, P.J. Williams, Vonn Bell, and Janoris Jenkins up in the air. The team will also have to make a decision on Patrick Robinson, who is currently set to count for $6.15 million against the salary cap in the upcoming season and $6.25 million in 2021. According to Spotrac, the Saints do have a potential out going for them, which would only tack on $2.5 million in dead cap space. Regardless of what happens there, the bottom line is that New Orleans will desperately need some secondary help.
Both Apple and Bell are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, while Jenkins carries an $11.25 million cap hit in the new season. Realistically, a contract extension could be in line for Jenkins, although his sample size with the team was limited, but good. How the Saints handle that situation may make Apple the odd man out, and Vonn Bell would obviously be the biggest priority of any impending defensive free agents.
Other positions will be important for the Saints to address, mainly the quarterback and linebacker spots, as well as some of the depth roles. Again, this could be the most important offseason for team's brain trust, and we'll know more of how they attack sooner rather than later.