NFL Combine 2020 Preview: Saints face key decisions in their most important offseason yet

John Hendrix

The NFL Scouting Combine officially kicked off on Sunday, with the tight ends, quarterbacks, and wide receivers all arriving in Indianapolis for registration, orientation, and interviews. The whole event is sure to draw a ton of interest across the league, as workouts start on Thursday. Some of the nation's top prospects are on full display in hopes of boosting their draft stock and increasing their potential selection position. Here's a look at the full schedule.

general_player_schedule_2020_rev0207
General Player ScheduleNFL Combine

The New Orleans Saints are undoubtedly eager to move forward in 2020, as they had their biggest question of the offseason answered last week when Drew Brees announced that he was returning to the team for at least one more year. While we await what the financial impact of his contract will be, there's still many questions the Saints have to answer.

New Orleans has some big salary cap decisions ahead. As has been the case every year, the salary cap is expected to rise, and could be north of $200 million. Something to pay attention to is how the CBA shapes out for the league. As of now, the Saints enter the season with an estimated $9.8 million in cap space, according to Spotrac. The Saints are no stranger of finding a way when it comes to creating room to be competitors in free agency, and they have over $76 million tied up in just five players. If you go a little further, it's $117.67 million in their top 10.

As far as impending free agents, the Saints have over 25 players headed to free agency. Key contributors like Taysom Hill, Vonn Bell, Teddy Bridgewater, David Onyemata, Eli Apple, A.J. Klein, Andrus Peat, P.J. Williams, and Ted Ginn Jr. headline the biggest names New Orleans has to make decisions on. The Saints won't be able to keep them all, and out of the group, the most important priority appears to be retaining Hill right now. Given the team's track history of success over the past few seasons, there should be some outside interest to help the team land key pieces to help make a deep postseason run.

Looking at some of the biggest needs for the Saints, there's a few positions that could use an upgrade. For starters, the wide receiver position is one of the main deficiencies of the team, and it's been that way for several seasons outside of Michael Thomas. Linebacker is an underrated need New Orleans has, with A.J. Klein set to become an unrestricted free agent and a cap decision needing to be made on Kiko Alonso. Beyond that, the team does have Alex Anzalone and Kaden Elliss returning from injury, but there's still too many question marks there besides Demario Davis. Lastly, the left guard situation is one to keep an eye on with Andrus Peat heading to the open market, as well as the secondary depth.

2019 Season in Review

The Saints saw themselves put in another stellar regular season campaign, finishing 13-3 on the year. With the rest of the strong NFC competition, it landed New Orleans as the third seed in the playoffs. Their opening Wild Card weekend date with the Minnesota Vikings was a true disaster, as the Saints would lose in overtime 26-20. In a Saints season that saw just about everything from Drew Brees being hurt to some history made by Michael Thomas, it was definitely a disappointing way to go out.

2020 Draft Position

The finish gave New Orleans the 24th overall pick in the draft. Unlike last year, they will have a first round pick to go along with their five total selections. They are with picks in Round 2 and Round 7, and could potentially pick up some compensatory picks depending how free agency plays out. Here's a look at the current pick landscape.

  • Round 1: New Orleans
  • Round 2: None
  • Round 3: New Orleans
  • Round 4: New Orleans
  • Round 5: New Orleans
  • Round 6: New Orleans
  • Round 7: None

Helped Wanted. Help Needed

Free agency tends to be a precursor to help solve potential holes the Saints have ahead of the NFL Draft. The team has had pretty stellar success hitting on free agents, most notably the addition of Demario Davis in 2017. Jared Cook headlined the new blood from last season, with honorable mentions going to Latavius Murray, Malcom Brown, Mario Edwards Jr., and Nick Easton. How the Saints opt to tackle their financial situation will undoubtedly set the stage for the start of the new league year. Expect the team to potentially make some big decisions on existing personnel over the next few weeks, and then that'll dictate some of their priorities going into mid-March.

Five Players the Saints Must Watch

The Saints are without a second round pick due to last year's trade with the Dolphins to get Erik McCoy, but that wouldn't necessarily stop them from looking to get in on Day 2 of the draft. However, given their current assets, here's a few players that New Orleans could look at taking with their 24th overall selection.

  1. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
  2. Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
  3. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
  4. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
  5. Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

Naturally, free agency will dictate how some of this could play out, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Saints trade up if there's a player they covet that they feel the need to nab. For now, the best-case scenario could see New Orleans double dip by getting a strong wide receiver in free agency and then taking another early in the draft. The good news is that this is a very rich receiving class, and if they felt compelled to address something defensively, they might could still get value when they pick again in Round 3.

Who Makes The Call and Recent Draft Hits and Misses

Both Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have been doing this together for quite some time, and the recent draft classes have mostly been major hits since Jeff Ireland came aboard. The 2017 draft class that featured Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, Alvin Kamara, Trey Hendrickson, and Alex Anzalone was one of the best the Saints have had. They followed that up another strong draft in 2018, making a big splash in trading with the Packers to get Marcus Davenport. While most all of the players didn't make the final roster, the majority of them did land elsewhere. 2019 saw the Saints without a first round pick, but they made the most of it by taking key players like Erik McCoy and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The only player who really didn't make an impact in the season was Alize Mack, one of their 7th Round draft choices. 

New Orleans is facing their most important offseason of the Payton-Loomis-Brees era, and every move they make will go under a microscope. Ultimately, we won't know how it pays off until a little less than a year from now.

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