The New Orleans Saints had their playoff hopes crushed after winning the regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons. The front office’s focus is to build another Super Bowl contender. Quarterback might be the most apparent positional need, but Sean Payton has shown he can deliver wins with different quarterbacks, provided he has a well-rounded roster. The front office faces the four biggest challenges heading into the offseason.
The New Orleans Saints have proven they are just a couple of pieces away, a couple of lucky bounces, from having a championship-caliber roster ready to go next season. They overcame extraordinary odds to barely miss out on the final NFC playoff spot. Though Khai Harley is getting mentioned as a leading General Manager candidate for several jobs, Mickey Loomis has this front office primed to build another playoff roster for 2022. Keeping to the team’s core philosophies, the four biggest priorities are for the next training camp.
New Orleans likes to build organically, keeping draft picks around for second contracts and spreading responsibilities around the coaching staff to have fail-safe redundancies built into the culture. These procedures came in handy years ago when Payton was injured and sidelined, when the league suspended him, and through these COVID-19 affected seasons. That’s why these rumors of Payton being traded seem laughable. Instead, the team would give Payton a blank check than accept some first-round picks for their coaching general. He may not need the check, just a quarterback.
Even before chasing an All-Pro QB1, keeping Sean Payton in town is the most important priority this offseason. Payton has a case for NFL Coach of the Year, but his importance to the team and city goes far beyond the field. The culture he built within the Saints locker room the last 15 years has helped keep the city of New Orleans in good spirits even though these challenging past few years. The list of obstacles, injuries, and natural disasters that have affected New Orleans resembles the longest restaurant menu in the city. Still, the Saints nearly qualified for the NFC Wild Card round.
The second priority is finding Payton’s next quarterback. The only reason he would want to leave is a belief he could not win under the current conditions. Payton’s confidence in Hill has waned. You could see it in the play-calling, though it could be attributed to Hill’s injuries. Jameis Winston is a known commodity within the team, would be cheaper than an All-Pro replacement on the cap sheet, and would not require sending draft picks and a player out in a trade. Still, the allure of Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers running a Sean Payton offense seemingly guarantees an NFC Title Game appearance.
Among all other available options, the most inspiring name might be bringing Teddy Bridgewater back. Those are the signals leading everyone to believe New Orleans has to push all the chips in to get a top-end talent or risk Payton wanting to leave town. The smoky rumors of his departure could light a fiery end to the greatest era of Saints football if the front office fumbles these negotiations. Imagine these loyal fans going into the 2022 season without a quarterback or a coach? There would be intense pressure on the new regime. No one wants that friction, giving the front office more reason to make a big move.
The third step to building the next Payton-coached championship run is protecting the new quarterback and giving them skill weapon options. Alvin Kamara’s cap hit jumps from $5 million to over $14 million, and he is worth every penny, but he needs someone behind Mark Ingram to help carry the load. Throwing a mid-round pick at someone that reminds everyone of Kamara’s draft tape is as worthy of an investment as getting a couple more starter-level lineman. Neither Terron Armstead nor Andrus Peat are getting any younger, and Cesar Ruiz has been uninspiring when asked to handle more responsibility.
The top end of the tight end market might be out of the team’s price range. Still, Taysom Hill moving back into his gadget role full-time gives the Saints an option to work the middle of the field while stretching all the spaces that provide Michael Thomas room to operate underneath with such efficiency as to gain a slant-route reputation. Even with a pay bump from $10 million to $24.7 million, including Thomas in a trade for a quarterback makes little sense. The new man leading the huddle will need someone to throw to. The WR/TE room hinges on whether Thomas remains playing for the Saints.
Wide receivers Tre’Quan Smith ($1.4M), Marquez Calloway (~$900K), and Deonte Harty (recently changed from Harris), are all great affordable options for the third spot on the depth chart down.
Tight ends Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, and Nick Vannett just have not panned out in a way that threatens the spaces and how Payton wants to expose defenses.
The Saints need another receiver if Thomas sticks around in New Orleans. Though they might need two veteran free agents and a star rookie to pan out to replace him.
Fourth in line is keeping this defensive core intact. In the home of the Dome Patrol, New Orleans defends against all odds, regroups to rebuild, and then struts out on the offensive, proud to have worked the most demanding jobs. Kwon Alexander, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson step out with that swagger every possession; it is how the Saints have kept their slim postseason hopes alive using four different quarterbacks.
Replacing any key names will be tough from a talent and chemistry perspective. The Jarius Byrd signing left an open wound regarding taking an expensive flyer on outside talent. Likewise, the 2020 draft class has been underwhelming. Sure, scouting talent during the pandemic was formidable, but every team had to deal with the lack of time and tape on prospects. New Orleans needs to keep this defense intact. Asking Payton and his offense to win shootouts every week leads to as many 7-9 seasons as does NFC South titles.
There will be growing anticipation and anonymously sourced rumors running rampant through the national media concerning blockbuster offseason trades for an All-Pro quarterback and unfounded speculation of Sean Payton’s next employment destination. Fans need not worry, not with this front office leading a new New Orleans Saints football era.
No matter who may be suiting up for the team next season, the most loveable loser traditions are a source of pride for a franchise now accustomed to winning consistently. It is all a credit to the team-first locker room culture built by Payton. It’s why ownership and the front office should be willing to give the organization’s most successful coach ever a blank check and do everything to solidify the quarterback position this offseason.
*This article was written by Chris Dodson, contributor for Saints News Network.
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