By far, the Saints' biggest weakness is the lack of an experienced backup quarterback. Drew Brees is solidly in the top-5 in the league at his position. Assuming he is healthy, he will put up around 25 touchdowns, while the offense puts up around 400 points--25 per game. But if Brees goes down, the team could be in a world of hurt. Let's take a second to knock on wood ... then talk some backup quarterbacks.
That the Saints traversed the 2006 season with backup quarterback Jamie Martin only throwing 24 passes, all of which happened in a meaningless week 17 game against Carolina, is a sizable miracle. Combine an offensive line that performed admirably on passing plays--the Football Outsiders ranked them 4th in Sack Rate--and a plethora of receivers who attack the defense at all angles, and you can see why Brees took an unusually low number of hits. To be sure, Brees is a superior talent who will not be easily replaced if he is injured; he certainly made his line better. [Small Sample Size Alert!] I deliver this stat with the qualifier that week 17 involved a team of mostly second stringers going against a motivated Carolina team, but of the Saints 23 sacks allowed last season, 5 involved Jamie Martin. Still, I maintain that the Saints can't just plug in a quarterback and expect the offense not to miss a beat.
Especially if the quarterback is Martin. He is 37-years-old, and entering his 9th NFL season. He's never started more than 8 games in a season (2005), nor has he thrown more than 7 touchdowns (2002). I remember hearing somewhere that he's very knowledgeable, and I believe it. After all, when your arm's that weak, you better bring some serious intangibles to the table. Both in knowledge and ability, Martin's would be like a coach on the field.
But the alternatives aren't much better. Jason Fife spent the 2006 season as the 3rd quarterback, after a largely sedentary career at Oregon, where he could never beat-out Kellen Clemens for the starting job. Strike one. Fife has taken all of zero NFL snaps. Strike two. Fife's pithy Wikipedia entry contains the following gem:
Fife also played for a time in the AFL, more specifically, the Las Vegas Gladiators in the '06 season rather unremarkably, throwing quite a few passes into the stands...
Ellipses in Wikipedia entries are usually not a good sign. After all, they're in the reference business, not the inference business ... Next?
That leaves Tyler Palko. Palko started the past 3 seasons at Pitt, but went undrafted and signed with the Saints as a rookie free agent. His 2006 numbers were pretty impressive: 68.3% completions, 2800+ yards and 25 TDs. But he's never taken a professional snap. Here are some of Scott Wright's observations:
Not a pure passer and doesn't show the consistency you'd like but he's the type you hate to totally write off...Probably doesn't project as a starter at the next level but could be an excellent pro backup for a long time.
That's not exactly heady praise, and the question must be asked, how long until he becomes a functional backup? The Saints don't have the luxury to find out right now; they must win while their window is WIDE open (and it certainly is).
The Verdict: The Saints' top priority before the season must be to upgrade their backup quarterback. And as much as I hate to say it, there is an eminently qualified candidate who is sitting at home in Washington right now, waiting for somebody to call: Drew Bledsoe. Look, I don't like it any more than you do, but Bledsoe has a few important positives going for him. He knows the offense from Sean Payton's days in Dallas. His top weakness--his immobility--would be minimized by his supporting cast. He has a wealth of experience and can still throw the ball all over the field. Finally, he's a hell of a blogger. He's a palatable solution to the backup question.