In addition to the usual “year in review” pieces for the players, what about the coaches and front office? They’re all fair game for the 2019 Year in Review series. First up? Mickey Loomis.
In total, it was a solid year for Mickey Loomis in 2019, even if he would prefer a few do-overs.
Early in the offseason, Loomis made multiple big moves, signing Latavius Murray to a four-year, $14.4 million dollar contract to replace Mark Ingram who would later sign a three-year, $15 million dollar deal with the Baltimore Ravens.
How did the two compare? Ingram went on to rush for 1,018 yards for the Ravens, and added another 247 yards in the air, on his way to earn his third trip to the Pro Bowl in his 9-year career. While Ingram was asked to be the every down back in Baltimore, Murray played a secondary role in New Orleans. Behind starter Alvin Kamara, Murray rushed for 637 yards with an additional 235 receiving yards in 2019. Who’s to say how Ingram would have performed in New Orleans last year or what contract it would have taken to keep him if both parties had a do over? Loomis and the Saints, though, have to be happy with what they have in Murray regardless.
In the offseason, Loomis also signed Mario Edwards, Jr. to replace the depth lost by the departing Alex Okafor. Unfortunately for Okafor, he can’t seem to shake the injury bug, tearing his pectoral muscle in December. Speaking of injury, Edwards was able to help fill in for Marcus Davenport when Davenport went down with a foot injury. Likewise, the signing of Malcom Brown ended up being beneficial when Sheldon Rankins went down for injury.
The biggest name the Saints added via free agency was undoubtedly Jared Cook. While it took a bit of time for Cook and Drew Brees to get their chemistry together (due in no small part to both missing time due to injury), once they got cooking, it was a thing to see. In the final seven games of 2019, Cook averaged a touchdown per game and developed into one of Drew’s primary targets after Michael Thomas.
Two of the other Saints free agent acquisitions, Marcus Sherels and Nick Easton, had less significant roles (to say the least) compared to what was anticipated at their time of signing. Sherels was signed to be the Saints’ primary punt return specialist, but he didn’t even make the team out of the preseason. Easton was signed as a potential replacement for the retiring Max Unger, and he failed to start a single game at center all season long.
In place of Sherels and Easton were UDFA Deonte Harris and second round pick Erik McCoy respectively. Harris went on to be named First Team All-Pro as a punt returner, as he led the league in punt return yards. McCoy was a full-season, year one starter for the Saints.
Even with limited draft capital and no first round pick, McCoy wasn’t the only impact player selected by the Mickey Loomis and the Saints in the 2019 NFL Draft. In the fourth round, the Saints drafted Chauncey “CJ” Gardner-Johnson out of Florida. CJ started seven games for the Saints in 2019, and has shown the makings of a top NFL slot cornerback who can also play strong safety in a pinch. Speaking of safety, the Saints also drafted Saquan Hampton out of Rutgers in the sixth round, and Hampton was forced into limited duty on special teams and on defense due to injuries at the safety position late in the year. Hampton was eventually placed on injured reserve in December. Seventh round picks TE Alize Mack and LB Kaden Elliss were forgivable misses by Loomis and the rest of the Saints scouting department, as Mack is now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and Elliss spent the season on injured reserve due to a knee injury.
But new faces via the draft and free agency weren’t the only moves made by the Saints. The Saints also elected to bring back backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to New Orleans for another year, making him the highest-paid backup in the league. And what did Teddy do? When forced into action for five games while Drew was forced to miss time due to an injured thumb, Teddy led the Saints to a 5-0 record, which included victories against the Dallas Cowboys at home as well as road victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears.
Teddy might have gotten just a one-year contract extension, but Michael Thomas got a big more. Right before the season got underway, Thomas and the Saints agreed to a five-year $100 million dollar contract, with $62 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL at the time of signing. And how did Thomas reward the Saints for the extension? Did he take plays off and ease his foot off the gas pedal knowing he had secured his money? Far from it. Thomas went on to break Marvin Harrison’s single-season receptions record on his way to winning Offensive Player of the Year -- the first wide receiver to win that award since Jerry Rice in 1993. But for a spectacular year from Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson, Thomas could very well have garnered legitimate MVP consideration.
Thomas wasn’t the only Saint to be given a five-year extension with the Saints. Head Coach Sean Payton also signed a five-year deal, hopefully silencing those in the media clamoring for Payton to eventually take over the coaching gig with the Dallas Cowboys.
Once the season was underway, Loomis didn’t stop trying to improve his team. The Saints were unsuccessful in their attempt to claim DE Terrell Suggs after he was waived by the Arizona Cardinals. The Saints were successful, though, in claiming CB Janoris Jenkins off waivers after his release by the New York Giants, and the addition of Jenkins proved incredibly beneficial when the Saints lost Jenkins’s former-turned-current teammate Eli Apple to injury. If there was a player available late in the year in free agency that could help the Saints, the Saints at least kicked the tires. Suggs, Jenkins, Antonio Brown, DJ Swearinger... Mickey Loomis and the Saints were constantly trying to find ways to improve the team, in hopes of making a Super Bowl run in 2019. The Saints’ 2019 postseason was cut short after an upset loss to the Minnesota Vikings, but that shouldn’t undermine in any way the hard work put in by Loomis and his staff along the way.
The decision to bring back Teddy, the extension to “Can’t Guard Mike,” the waiver claim of Janoris Jenkins, the savvy draft picks of McCoy and CJ Gardner-Johnson - it was all in all a great year for Loomis. Let’s hope he has another solid offseason in him this year.