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Saints’ biggest questions in front of a massively important offseason

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Quarterback and wide receiver are givens, but the Saints have a few other positions of need

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past three seasons, the New Orleans Saints have made their bones off of a roster with tremendous depth and talent at nearly every key position. Yet, in each of those seasons, the Saints have come up short of their ultimate goal: A second Super Bowl berth and, of course, a Super Bowl victory.

It hasn’t been for lack of trying. The Saints made the NFC Championship in 2018 and went 13-3 in 2019, but they still came up short. With that in mind, every offseason from here on out will become the most important offseason in franchise history. That is, until Drew Brees decides to retire and the Saints can complete their transition to a post-2009 team.

The 2020 offseason finds itself raising most of the same questions as 2019. What to do at quarterback moving forward, who will that quarterback be throwing to, and who exactly will be protecting him.

With that in mind, here are the top needs for the Saints in the 2020 offseason, as they try to retool for another Super Bowl run.

Wide Receiver No. 2

This is, without a question, the most pressing question for the Saints moving forward. Michael Thomas set the record for receptions in a season last year, with 149. Ted Ginn Jr. and Tre’Quan Smith, the alleged No. 2 and No. 3 receivers on the team, combined for 48 catches on the season. Jared Cook emerged as a receiving threat, but as a tight end he spends a lot of time at the end of the formation.

There is still time for Smith to emerge as a receiving threat, but his inconsistent hands have been an issue on and off in the early phases of his career. Ginn appears to struggle taking the top of a defense off, and asking Lil’Jordan Humphrey to become a legitimate threat would be difficult after one season of limited action. Brees has always had two things in offenses: A No. 1 receiver who is able to get open and a No. 2 who can either take the top off a defense (Devery Henderson, Kenny Still, Robert Meachem) or get open underneath (Lance Moore, Willie Snead). Thomas is being asked to be three things right now.

Guard

Andrus Peat has been solid for the Saints (GASP), but realistically there’s a good chance he’ll end up getting picked off in free agency this season. Will Clapp and Nick Easton both struggled for the Saints when asked to fill in inside, and for a unit that’s only as strong as its weakest piece, in the event Peat is picked up on a hefty contract the Saints need to have someone strong lined up.

Continuity is king on the offensive line, and the Saints have fielded one of the best offensive lines in the NFL for the past two seasons. Ryan Ramcyzk and Erik McCoy have been phenomenal draft picks, while Terron Armstead and Larry Warford have provided a strong veteran presence. The Saints could easily shore up this need by simply... Re-signing Peat. But if he ends up walking in free agency, it immediately becomes a position of need if the Saints want to keep dominating the trenches as they have the past few seasons.

Middle Linebacker

The silver lining for the Saints is that a strong defensive unit will likely only undergo a few tweaks. There’s a decent chance the Saints let A.J. Klein walk in free agency as well, which means that there will be a need a middle linebacker. Klein offered a guy who could cover very well, something that has been vital to Dennis Allen’s gameplans. Demario Davis and Kiko Alonso are good on the edges, but if Klein walks that would leave Craig Robertson and Alex Anzalone inside.

Anzalone would be a solid option — if he could stay healthy. A corps of Davis-Anzalone-Alonso would be one of the better cover-trios in the league, but Anzalone and Alonso both have issues staying on the field. With that in mind, re-signing Klein might be a solid move, but if the Saints are outbid, they’ll have to find another option unless they want to trust in the health of Anzalone or sacrifice coverage for Robertson.

Honorable mention: Cornerback

Janoris Jenkins is still under contract for 2020, so he can anchor the DBs alongside Marshon Lattimore. But depth is essential when you talk cornerbacks in the NFL. P.J. Williams is a free agent this season, and Patrick Robinson has struggled when called upon for the Saints (most recently giving up the big reception to Adam Thielen that ultimately led to the Vikings getting into the end zone in overtime).

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has an excellent nose for the ball, but he’s susceptible to penalties in coverage. Turning to him full-time could end up being risky for the Saints, especially if he doesn’t learn to keep his hand-fighting under control. That will likely come with time, but for now he’s a work in progress.

All-in-all, a lot of these positions would be bonuses for a Saints team that’s still sporting a strong roster next year. However, keeping the offensive line intact and giving Brees or Teddy Bridgewater options to throw to are imperative. The Saints are a team that wants to grind teams, and the way their roster is built reflects that. 2020 should be about touching that roster up to make it more dangerous — not overhauling it because this year ended earlier than anticipated.