Highlighting the Biggest Offseason Needs for the New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints 2020 offseason arrived faster than most expected thanks to a first round home playoff upset to the Minnesota Vikings. Despite the loss, the Saints have had one of the NFL’s most talented rosters over the past three seasons. General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton have done an excellent job building a championship caliber roster through a mix of wise drafting and smart free agent decisions. The New Orleans front office faces more challenges this offseason. Expect the Saints to be active in free agency, even if they don’t reel in any high-priced contracts. The contracts of eight starters expired at the end of the year, with more players facing a possible restructured deal or being a potential cap casualty. The Saints own the 24th pick in the first round of the draft, along with picks in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th rounds.
Despite their talent and depth at many positions, a few glaring weaknesses were exposed in their playoff loss. As the team looks to keep their talented nucleus intact, here are a few of their biggest needs that must also be addressed this offseason.
A clear positional weakness at the conclusion of the 2018 season was even worse this year. Wideout Michael Thomas is the best in the game and unstoppable through the short and intermediate areas of opposing defenses. Thomas was targeted 185 times and had a single season NFL-record 149 receptions for a league high 1,725 yards. Ted Ginn Jr. had the highest amount of targets and catches among wideouts after Thomas, catching 30 of 56 targets for 421 yards. Ginn is an unrestricted free agent and seems unlikely to return. Second-year WR Tre'Quan Smith continues to disappoint with his inconsistencies, especially when operating in traffic. Tight end Jared Cook emerged as a dangerous receiving compliment to Thomas as the season progressed and running back Alvin Kamara is one of the best pass catching backs in the NFL. The Saints don’t necessarily need to add another Number 1 wide receiver to their stable of weapons. But the lack of any threat at all other than Thomas at the position crippled them. It’s possible that New Orleans adds a veteran slot wideout in free agency, but the more likely scenario would have them draft a receiver from a deep corps of pass catchers.
This position was exposed during the playoff loss to Minnesota. Left guard Andrus Peat is a free agent and seems unlikely to return. Right guard Larry Warford struggled with his footwork and was manhandled along the line of scrimmage down the stretch. Guard Nick Easton, who played well as a starter when Peat was sidelined with a broken arm, was inactive for most of the first half of the year.
Both Easton and Warford will carry a high salary cap number coming into next season. Either could be asked to restructure their current deals or potentially be released. A complete revamping of both guard spots seems unlikely, but the Saints will look to infuse more talent at the position. The team has had good luck in free agency but may also target an interior lineman with a high draft pick.
New Orleans possesses one of the league’s best every down linebackers in Demario Davis. Both A.J. Klein and Kiko Alonso are limited athletically in pass coverage but each play smartly and are solid against the run and are capable blitzers. The unit’s depth was tested when Klein and Alonso each missed time with injuries though. Veteran Craig Robertson is still an effective short-term starter, but the Saints were forced to sign Manti Te’o off the street to play significant snaps.
Klein is an unrestricted free agent entering the offseason, and Alonso suffered a knee injury in the playoff game that leaves the start to next season in doubt. He also carries a big contract that may force the team into a decision to ask him to redo his deal or potentially be released. Talented 4th year linebacker Alex Anzalone returns from a shoulder injury that kept him out for the year but New Orleans will be active at the position.
Vonn Bell has been one of the most consistent New Orleans defenders during his four year career. He was second on the team in tackles and led the league with 5 fumble recoveries despite missing three games with a knee injury. Free safety Marcus Williams led the Saints with 4 interceptions but continues to struggle with poor tackling and poor decision-making in critical situations.
Bell is an unrestricted free agent and will command one of the highest salaries at his position. Cornerback P.J. Williams played well when moved to a safety spot when Marcus Williams and Bell were sidelined by injury but is also a free agent. The Saints used two draft picks on defensive backs last spring; a fourth rounder on Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and a sixth on Saquan Hampton. Gardner-Johnson was one of the defense’s best players over the second half of the year but injuries limited Hampton to just five games.
It’s hard to envision the Saints spending a lot of money at this spot, unless they can keep Bell.
Marshon Lattimore is coming off the second Pro Bowl bid in his three seasons and is one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks. The rest of this position is in flux heading into the offseason. Fellow starter Eli Apple had a wonderful start to the year but tailed off badly down the stretch. P.J. Williams as mentioned is a free agent and has also been a liability in coverage throughout his career. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson had an outstanding rookie season and shined in a slot coverage role, but may see more snaps at safety going forward. Justin Hardee, a special teams ace, will also be a free agent. Veteran corner Patrick Robinson has been a colossal disappointment and will probably be released.
New Orleans brought in a big addition to the secondary when they picked up Janoris Jenkins off waivers in December. Jenkins played better in each of his three games with the Saints and has the abilities of a top cornerback to compliment Lattimore. Jenkins carries a cap hit of over $11 million if the club picks up his contract for 2020.
The 2019 New Orleans secondary was perhaps the most talented in franchise history, despite struggling in the playoff loss to the Vikings. The unit also faces the most offseason questions as the Saints move into an offseason full of crucial questions