The New Orleans Saints have had one of the NFL's deepest and most talented teams for the last four seasons. That depth and talent have helped the team to an unprecedented run of success in franchise history. Unfortunately, a 49-15 regular-season record and four division titles didn't transfer into much playoff success. The Saints have lost at home in each of the last three postseasons.
This year's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round was probably the last game for legendary quarterback Drew Brees. The NFL's all-time leading passer showed a decline in his skills, but also suffered several injuries during the year, including a serious rib injury that caused him to miss four games. Record-breaking wideout Michael Thomas was limited to just seven games because of an ankle injury that had him a shadow of himself all year.
Injuries and the physical deterioration of their Hall of Fame quarterback were two major reasons a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations ended in disappointment. Here are a few of the team’s stars who also fell short of individual expectations.
CAMERON JORDAN, DEFENSIVE END
It might seem a stretch to say that a player who was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl and sixth such honor in his terrific career had a disappointing season. But based on the high level of play we’ve come to expect from Cam Jordan, that's exactly what he was. The tenth-year defensive end had 7.5 sacks, tied for the second-lowest total of his career. His 11 tackles for loss were his lowest in seven seasons. Jordan's talent often forces opponents to use multiple blockers against him. That left one-on-one opportunities for his teammates along the defensive line and contributed to breakout seasons for Trey Hendrickson and Carl Granderson. However, Jordan's place on this list involves more than just a decrease in productivity.
The 31-Yr old defensive end disappeared for long stretches and was not a factor in several games. On more than one occasion he was easily handled by a backup offensive lineman during the course of a game, including a third-string tackle during a Week 2 loss to the Raiders. His team's best pass rusher, Jordan was invisible when the defense needed a big play down the stretch this season.
Still an outstanding defender, Jordan is an important contributor to one of the league's best defenses, but given his price tag must produce at his previous All-Pro level. He is signed through the 2023 season but will count $18.9 million towards the salary cap in 2021 for a New Orleans team with salary cap issues heading into the offseason.
JARED COOK, TIGHT END
One of the lasting images that Saints fans will have of the end of the 2020 season was a critical 3rd quarter fumble by Jared Cook in the playoff loss to Tampa Bay. The miscue not only short-circuited a promising New Orleans drive but set the Buccaneers up in great field position for the game-tying touchdown. It was a play that will incur the wrath of Saints fans forever but also capped a bitterly disappointing year for the former Pro Bowl tight end.
Cook had 37 receptions for 504 yards and a team-high 7 touchdowns in 2020. Not bad numbers at first glance, but well below the production that earned him Pro Bowl honors in his first year with the Saints in 2019. An injury-depleted receiving corps should have meant a bigger role for Cook, considered one of the league's best receivers at the position. However, the 33-Yr old tight end often failed to get open consistently and was rarely a major factor. He had two or fewer receptions in eight different games, with passes often bouncing off his hands in key moments.
Cook is an unrestricted free agent and seems unlikely to be in the team's plans for 2021. The Saints traded four picks to move into the 3rd round of last Spring's draft to select TE Adam Trautman, who had a bigger role down the stretch of this season.
ANDRUS PEAT, GUARD
The most controversial offseason move New Orleans made in the 2020 offseason was re-signing Peat to a five-year, $57.5 million contract extension. Much to the chagrin of the team’s fans, the structure of the deal and guaranteed money virtually insures that the 27-Yr old offensive lineman will be with the Saints next season unless the team can find a trade partner willing to take on his salary.
Peat was awarded a third consecutive Pro Bowl this season, based more on reputation and the overall production of a terrific New Orleans line rather than individual performance. He was a key run blocker for a Saints rushing attack that averaged 141.6 yards per game on the ground and scored a league-high 30 rushing touchdowns. However, Peat's pass blocking continues to be inconsistent and was part of the team’s early-season offensive struggles.
Opposing defenses often targeted Peat successfully with their pass rush, especially on stunts and blitzes. The former 1st round pick was too many times left flailing as a pass rusher stormed by him to hurry or disrupt Drew Brees. An ankle injury suffered in the first part of the season further limited Peat’s mobility, making him a bigger target for interior rushers. Peat will be the focus of several offseason trade rumors, but a restructuring of his contract seems more likely.
Peat’s situation is only one of several issues the Saints must address in what will be an intriguing offseason.