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Will the Saints find an Heir for Drew Brees in Marcus Mariota?

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NFL insiders are beginning to push the idea that the New Orleans Saints will trade up to draft quarterback Marcus Mariota, possibly in a move that involves sending Drew Brees to another team. Is this wishful thinking by fans of other teams, or pure click bait?

At least Saints fans wouldn't be worried about their QB losing his tongue on a bad hit.
At least Saints fans wouldn't be worried about their QB losing his tongue on a bad hit.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There has been some speculation that the Saints will use their surplus of 2015 draft picks to trade up and grab Marcus Mariota to replace Drew Brees.  Going against conventional wisdom, Jason LaCanfora believes the Hawaiian-born quarterback out of Oregon will be the second pick in this year's draft.  The CBS Sports rep claims that if nobody impresses Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt with a trade worthy of the second pick in the draft, he will go ahead and draft Mariota himself.

Many of the mock drafts have the Heisman Trophy winner getting drafted somewhere between the sixth and twelfth pick in the first round.  And the Titans are largely projected to grab DE Leonard Williams out of USC with the second pick this year.  So what is LaCanfora thinking? Is he merely tossing out click bait, or does he truly believe that teams are ready to go all-in to ensure nobody else takes the second quarterback off the board on April 30th?

The idea that the Saints will grab Mariota, and possibly trade Brees, is gathering steam, having now been repeated by NFL.com.  The argument for sending Brees packing is largely based on the salary cap hit the team could face by keeping him on his current contract; but clearly these speculators haven't been paying attention to the years of Mickey Loomis working his magic with the numbers.  Those in favor of trading the team's Super Bowl winning quarterback also claim that the Saints are completely rebuilding, so the team is likely going to get rid of Brees in an effort to rip the proverbial band-aid off in one swipe.  Again, the talking heads haven't been paying attention.  The New Orleans Saints are retooling in order to focus on improving the running game, building the defense, and protecting an aging-but-still-elite quarterback.

Regardless of the validity of pre-draft speculation by so-called NFL insiders, the Mariota issue does resurface the question of when New Orleans needs to look for their next man under center.  Few teams manage to replace Brett Favre with Aaron Rodgers, or Joe Montana with Steve Young.  And although the Saints front office would undoubtedly rather avoid the sort of falling out the Packers had with their previous quarterback, a similarly successful transition is the best way to keep the team competitive, and the fans happy.

What some speculators aren't taking into account is that coach Sean Payton has worked to keep Ryan Griffin, the young quarterback out of Tulane who signed with the Saints following the 2013 NFL Draft.  Whether or not Griffin truly is the answer, the team's interest in him warrants consideration in any discussion regarding Drew's heir.  It is unlikely that the coaching staff has been keeping three quarterbacks on the active roster in hopes of grooming another team's backup, a la Chase Daniel.  But we haven't yet seen enough from Griffin to believe he can step in and fill the team's needs under center.

The question is:  have the Saints scouts seen enough out of Mariota, or anyone else? Mariota has the potential to be a successful starter in the NFL, eventually.  However, he is a player that will benefit greatly from being groomed for at least a year, and it would be a shame to see any team ruin him by expecting too much in his rookie season.  Chip Kelly, who coached Mariota at Oregon, might see some early success by plugging his former quarterback into a system which has been described as "quarterback proof."  But the Saints offense requires a quarterback who is capable and confident in going through his reads; and Mariota isn't quite ready for that at the professional level.