The New Orleans Saints have one of the most talented rosters in the league. They had the NFL's best record this season, have won back to back division titles, coming within a few missed opportunities and referee robbery of the W.W.E./NFL super bowl. The Saints must rebound quickly from the heartbreaking and infuriating end to their season. The new NFL year begins in March, and with it the roster changes with free agency and the draft that affects every NFL team. While we will certainly cover free agency and the draft over the next few weeks and months, here are some pressing in-house issues that New Orleans should address as their first order of business.
Contact extension for Michael Thomas
Thomas has solidified his place among the top wideouts in the game in just his third season. He had 125 receptions this season, which led the NFL and broke his own Saints franchise record. His 1,405 receiving yards was another franchise record, one of many he owns, as he's already rewritten the team's record book. Thomas is a dominant offensive threat despite the lack of a consistent weapon in the passing game, outside of running back Alvin Kamara, to shift the defensive focus away from him. His contract won't expire until the conclusion of next season, but the Saints would be wise to lock up Thomas, a 2016 2nd round draft pick, to a long term deal as soon as possible, eliminating any chances that he could hit the open market. As one of the best offensive weapons in the league, it will likely take the top wideout salary in the NFL to retain him, probably over 20 million per year. Thomas is already perhaps the best receiver in franchise history though, and has seemed to have just scratched the surface of what looks to be a brilliant career.
Retain assistant coach Dennis Allen
Allen, the team's defensive coordinator, drew the ire of some fans for the failure of his pass defense in the final minutes of numerous halves this season, and for the overall struggles of his pass defense. Allen's defenses have transformed into a disruptive unit over the last two seasons however, and are just as responsible for playoff runs as the team's offense. His 2018 unit ranking number 1 against the run for the majority of the season, forced 27 turnovers, and held 11 opponents to 20 points or less during the year. Allen and his defensive staff were often outstanding at making in-game adjustments, and the defense is expected to get better, with the majority of their players having been in the league four years or less. His contract expires at the official start of the league's new year, and despite some interest, Allen was not offered a head coaching position elsewhere. The Saints would be wise to keep the defense's coaching staff intact, maintaining the continuity of an underrated and rapidly improving unit.
Re-sign Mark Ingram
Ingram is the highest profile player among the Saints unrestricted free agents this spring, and certainly the most important. He had a down year in 2018, by his standards, finishing with 645 yards rushing and six touchdowns after being suspended for the first four games. One of just four backs in Saints history to have multiple 1,000 yard rushing seasons, he needs just 89 yards to surpass Deuce McAllister as the team's all-time rushing leader, and his 50 career rushing touchdowns are a franchise record. More importantly, the 29-yr. old Ingram is still near his prime, and is a beloved and well-respected teammate. He combines with Alvin Kamara to give New Orleans the most lethal running back combination in the league. Ingram can bulldoze for the tough yardage inside the tackles, and has the speed to get to the outside or break a big play in the open field. He's a underrated receiver, and is an outstanding pass blocker.
The Ingram/Kamara duo has fueled this offense for the last two seasons. They have combined for 5,501 all-purpose yards and 50 touchdowns in their two seasons together. Although Kamara has shown the ability to be a featured back, the Saints offense is far more effective with the two back attack. Ingram could choose a chance to be a featured back elsewhere in free agency, potentially seeking a salary of over five million per year. New Orleans hopes to keep the eight year veteran at a reasonable cap number, but with the Saints looking at expiring contracts of Michael Thomas, Andrus Peat, Vonn Bell, and David Onyemata in 2020, we shouldn't expect a large contract offer to Ingram from the team. If they can't re-sign Ingram, than the running back position will become one of the bigger needs to fill in either free agency or the draft, along with tight end, safety, and offensive line depth.
The Saints traded a 3rd round pick in the upcoming draft last August to obtain Teddy Bridgewater from the New York Jets, strengthening their quarterback depth. Bridgewater, who started a meaningless regular season finale against the Panthers and threw for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception, will become an unrestricted free agent in March. A late 1st round draft choice by the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, Bridgewater looks to be recovered from a horrific knee injury that nearly ended his career three years ago. The Saints will need to decide quickly whether the he is indeed their intended replacement for Drew Brees whenever he decides to retire. The 26-yr. old Bridgewater is a proven starter for a playoff contender, but may decide to test the free agent market for an immediate starting job. The team faces a 33 million dollar cap hit in the final year of Brees contract, and cannot afford to pay another top quarterback salary. If they lose Bridgewater, then the issue of an heir apparent for the legendary Brees will again need to be addressed.
The Saints aren't in a great salary cap spot, but we've certainly seen general manager Mickey Loomis pull off more with less. Other than Ingram, all of the team's top stars are still under contract. Decisions must be made on important role players like Tyeler Davison, Chris Banjo, Craig Robertson, and Josh LeRibeus though, and they must upgrade roster positions like tight end and others this offseason. The Saints will certainly bring in new talent, as all teams do, but they don't face the roster overhaul that we will see from others throughout the league. What New Orleans will do is fine-tune their team in a continued pursuit of a championship in 2019, as well as set themselves up to be a contender for the foreseeable future with a young and talented roster locked up for the longterm.
Which of these are the most important for the Saints to address before the start of free agency?
This poll is closed
Extend Michael Thomas
Retain Dennis Allen
Re-sign Mark Ingram
Re-sign Teddy Bridgewater