The New Orleans Saints have had to part with some of their key contributors from the last few years because of salary cap reasons. Those cap issues have also kept the team from being active in free agency over the first two weeks of the signing period.
New Orleans kept most of their productive offense together this offseason. They had to release WR Emmanuel Sanders, tight ends Josh Hill and Jared Cook, and offensive lineman Nick Easton, but added FB Alex Armah and re-signed QB Jameis Winston.
For the first time since 2005, the Saints will also have a new starter at quarterback to start the season. Legendary quarterback Drew Brees has retired, leaving the franchise with some uncertainty at the game’s most scrutinized position.
Quarterback is not the only question on one of the league's most efficient offenses. Earlier this week we covered some of the most pressing needs for New Orleans on the defensive side of the ball. Today we’ll focus on coach Sean Payton's specialty: The Offense.
An underrated need for this team. The Saints traded four picks in last year's draft to move into the 3rd round to select TE Adam Trautman with the 105th overall choice. They made the move with an eye on Trautman taking over the starting role in 2021. Trautman obliged, developing well and earning more playing time as last season progressed.
The release of Hill and Cook leave the Saints with zero depth at this position. Free agent options are thin, but Trey Burton and Jesse James each have starting experience that could provide depth. Both should be inexpensive additions.
New Orleans could surprise and grab a tight end with one of their three Day 2 draft choices. Penn State's Pat Freiermuth and Brevin Jordan of Miami would provide a dynamic 1-2 punch alongside Trautman. Tony Poljan, Hunter Long, and Tré McKitty are among potential Day 3 sleepers that could develop into solid contributors.
Another free agent name to watch is Tyler Eifert. The 30-Yr old Eifert has always been a terrific receiver, but has been injury-prone throughout his career. He has quietly missed just one game in the last two seasons and could be willing to play on a team-friendly one-year deal.
The 2021 successor to Brees will be Winston or versatile offensive weapon Taysom Hill, with Winston being the favorite to win the job. Are either the long-term answer for New Orleans at the position? Both players are only guaranteed to be under contract through the upcoming season.
Hill is unproven, even after four starts in relief of an injured Brees in 2020. Winston, the 1st overall selection in the 2015 draft, has flashed franchise quarterback potential but has been crippled by turnovers and poor decisions throughout his career.
Could the Saints use a 1st or 2nd round draft choice on a quarterback for the first time since 1971 and just the second time in franchise history? There’s a strong possibility. A young draft pick could learn the system for a year and be groomed for a starting job in 2022 if neither Winston nor Hill can prove they can be a long-term solution.
Alabama national champion Mac Jones and Trey Lance of North Dakota State are two signal callers that could be within realistic reach if the Saints move up in the 1st round. Jamie Newman, Kellen Mond, Kyle Trask, and Davis Mills are potential future starters that would be available in the second or third rounds.
Sean Payton has said several times that the next New Orleans quarterback is ‘‘in the building’’. If Jameis Winston does not play well, that may not be the case for long.
The Saints finally added a bona fide number two receiving threat to go along with All-Pro WR Michael Thomas at wideout last season. Unfortunately, Thomas suffered an ankle injury in the season opener that caused him to miss nine games and limited his effectiveness all season. That robbed fans of seeing what the record-breaking Thomas and veteran Pro Bowler Sanders could accomplish together.
Now with the release of Sanders, bigger contributions are expected from former undrafted receivers Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris. Both players flashed productive potential last season, and the team still has Tre'Quan Smith to provide depth. That may not be enough to prevent Sean Payton from adding another weapon for his new signal caller in 2021.
The Saints are not in a position to pay big money to a free agent wideout, so any potential additions here would come later in the signing period. Demarcus Robinson or Dede Westbrook would be outstanding additions to the New Orleans offense if still available. Both are explosive in the open field, efficient route runners, and have the speed to take a top off a defense.
They could also look to add a gamebreaking wideout early in the draft, while addressing defensive needs with later picks. Kadarius Toney, Terrace Marshall, and Elijah Moore are all first-round talents who could be immediate contributors. Rondale Moore and Tylan Wallace are among the Day 2 selections that could upgrade an offense.
New Orleans has had great luck at finding receiving talent that goes undrafted or slides into late on Day 3. The explosive Josh Imatorbhebhe or a run after-the-catch threat like Marquez Stevenson or Amari Rodgers could be late-round hits.
The Saints seem set along their front line, where tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk along with C/G Erik McCoy help make up one of the league's most dominant offensive lines. New Orleans needs more consistency from former 1st round draft picks Cesar Ruiz and Andrus Peat along the interior, especially after the release of Easton.
The re-signing of Hurst was crucial. He has valuable starting experience and the versatility to play both guard or tackle. Coaches also have confidence in Ethan Greenidge or Will Clapp to step in as short-term injury replacements.
While it would be surprising to see the Saints spend another early draft pick on an offensive lineman, we can expect them to try to strengthen their depth. The re-signing of Easton or former starter Senio Kelemete is possible. They’ve also had some luck with late round picks and undrafted players up front.
Alvin Kamara is one of the NFL's best offensive players, and the coaches love the depth at this position. Ty Montgomery and Dwayne Washington were re-signed, and productive top backup Latavius Murray was kept despite rumors of a potential salary cap release.
Sean Payton has never hesitated to add competition to this position. The talent here will prevent the Saints from bringing in a free agent or spending a Day 1 or 2 draft choice on a back. However, if a bruiser such as Trey Sermon or Rhamondre Stevens, or versatile threat like Kylin Hill or Michael Carter slips into the later rounds, they may be too enticing to pass up.
Also monitor small-school stars like Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell, or Spencer Brown in the later rounds or as undrafted additions. Remember that Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Khiry Robinson, and Travaris Cadet joined the Saints as undrafted rookies.
What do you think the Saints greatest offensive needs are this offseason? Stay tuned to the Saints News Network for all breaking New Orleans Saints news through free agency, the draft, and beyond.