Major Decisions Face the New Orleans Saints this Offseason
A 2019 season that began with championship aspirations for the New Orleans Saints ended in disappointment with a 26-20 first-round playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The defeat not only hastened the Saints into an offseason already full of questions, but the nature of the loss created some new ones. No NFL roster remains the same from one year to another, and we will see a different version of the 2020 Saints compared to this season. A franchise that has a 37-11 record over the last three years and is full of young stars is definitely not in need of a full makeover, but there are still vital issues this team must address.
Not a single one of the three New Orleans quarterbacks is under contract as the team enters their offseason. QB Taysom Hill, the 29 year-old “Jack-of-all-trades” offensive weapon, is a restricted free agent and will be offered a contract quickly. Hill may not be the quarterback of the future for the Saints, but is a versatile and important offensive weapon. Expect the Saints to give him a 2nd round tender while they attempt to negotiate a long-term deal. The more pressing question for the Saints is who will be the starter at the game’s most important position.
Future Hall of Famer QB Drew Brees will turn 41 years old and is still playing at a high level. Brees averaged just under 300 yards passing in his ten regular season games in 2019, threw 27 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions, and completed over 74% of his attempts. Brees has been criticized for his poor play during the playoff loss, but he completed 12 of his 14 fourth quarter passes and rallied the Saints back from a ten point deficit. Prior to the 2019 regular season, Brees mentioned that he intends to play as many as “3-4 more years,”, and even after 19 NFL seasons, there aren’t many better. The best opportunity for Brees to continue playing in the NFL will be with the New Orleans Saints.
QB Teddy Bridgewater received little interest on the market last offseason but that will be different after his performance in 2019. Bridgewater won all five of his starts when Brees was sidelined with a thumb injury and showed that he can be a productive NFL starter. Just 27 years-old, Bridgewater should have an opportunity at one of the starting quarterback spots in the league.
Assuming that Brees returns, but Bridgewater leaves rather than re-sign as the potential successor, the Saints will again be without a proven backup or successor to Brees in place.
The Saints have eight starters whose contracts are expiring. Salary cap constraints will prevent them from signing them all, even with GM Mickey Loomis’ ability to juggle finances. Players like DT David Onyemata, CB Eli Apple, LB A.J. Klein, and S Vonn Bell have been crucial to team success over the last few years but will command a high salary on the open market. The Saints are likely to let veterans WR Ted Ginn Jr., G Andrus Peat, and DB P.J. Williams leave, but would need to fill their roster spots at the top of the depth chart.
Depth along the defensive line makes Onyemata a lower priority, and Apple’s late season struggles could make him expendable. Bell and Klein have both been defensive staples. If New Orleans loses either player, their respective positions would become a higher priority among their roster needs.
Even as the current roster is constructed, the Saints have a clear need for a consistently productive wide receiver outside of All-Pro WR Michael Thomas. Injuries down the stretch exposed the lack of quality depth at linebacker. The playoff loss to Minnesota exposed both the interior offensive line and secondary. New Orleans owns the 24th pick in the first round of the draft, along with picks in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th rounds. The Saints have also been successful in free agency over the last few seasons, hitting the jackpot on stars like LB Demario Davis, DT Malcom Brown, Klein, G Larry Warford, and TE Jared Cook.
The Saints have built a formidable roster through good drafting and smart free agent decisions. Some of their current players may be jettisoned, but the front office has made good moves to maintain a talented product capable of competing for the Super Bowl.
CONTRACT SITUATIONS/SALARY CAP
Besides the expiring contracts of several starters, the Saints will also soon face contract decisions on Pro Bowl stars like CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk, and RB Alvin Kamara. New Orleans wisely extended the contracts of Michael Thomas and All-Pro DE Cameron Jordan last offseason to lock them up and may need to do the same with any of these three players.
The Saints have been experts at maneuvering around the salary cap over the years and will need to do so again to not only keep some of their own players, but also address their roster needs through free agency. Releasing a defensive liability such as DB Patrick Robinson seems all but a certainty but other cap relief will be in order. Some other players will either have their contracts restructured or perhaps be released to give New Orleans the cap space needed to add players. CB Janoris Jenkins was a key late season addition. He will cost over $11 million dollars against the cap at his current contract if New Orleans picks up the option rather than restructuring his deal. LB Kiko Alonso and G Larry Warford also have big contracts and could be potential cap casualties or restructure candidates.
New Orleans has a championship caliber roster with elite talent on both sides of the ball. The Saints will once again have an active offseason to bolster that talent as they attempt to rebound from a disappointing end to their title pursuit in 2019. Fans will see some different faces on the field in 2020, but this team remains committed to maintaining the success that has had them among the league’s best teams over the last three seasons.