The 2021 offseason will bring a great deal of uncertainty to New Orleans. A quarterback hunt, departures among the staff, and major on-field contributors potentially becoming cap casualties makes this one of the more intriguing and important off seasons in recent memory. The main focus of this offseason will be finding a new quarterback to replace future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, but other issues will arise both on defense and in the front office that may have more of an impact on the 2021 Saints than who is taking snaps under center. So lets examine three narratives that will be the focus of this watershed offseason in New Orleans.
Who the Saints will resign on defense
The Saints will have five defensive players who played more than 470 snaps this season in need of a new contract. These players are Sheldon Rankins, P.J. Williams, Marcus Williams, Alex Anzalone, and Trey Hendrickson. Also in need of a new contract will be linebacker Kwon Alexander, who the Saints traded for midseason. It is likely that only one or two of these players return to New Orleans next season, so who should the Saints prioritize?
I believe that bringing back Marcus Williams should easily be the number one priority for Mickey Loomis and the Saints front office when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. He is the youngest player out of the group needing contracts at just 24 years old, and arguably the best. The Saints have the least amount of cap space in the entire NFL, so Loomis will have to work some of his magic in order to make anything big happen. Williams should get something in the range of $8-10 million per year, which would put him just outside the top 10 highest paid safeties, around players such as Harrison Smith and Logan Ryan.
Williams played a crucial role on the Saints top 5 defense, finishing tied for the team lead in interceptions while also providing stability at free safety and allowing both Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Malcolm Jenkins to provide run support to the front seven. Williams has given the Saints four quality seasons since being drafted in 2017, and is showing no signs of dropping off.
For an in-depth look at why the Saints should bring back Marcus Williams, check out this article by our own Kevin Skiver.
Trey Hendrickson is going to be tough to keep, as he will be in high demand coming off of a career year. The Saints could easily be outbid for his services by another pass-rush needy team, especially if they sign Marcus Williams to a big contract.
I would prioritize Williams over Hendrickson for three reasons, the first being age, as Williams is two years younger than Hendrickson. The second would be that we have seen more consistent production from Marcus Williams. Hendrickson finished with 13.5 sacks this year to finish tied for second in the NFL, but before 2020, he only recorded 6.5 sacks in three seasons. Williams has been a quality starter since his rookie year while Hendrickson was more of a rotational player up until this season.
The third reason would be replaceability. Cameron Jordan and Carl Granderson each had over 5 sacks this season, and Marcus Davenport still has great upside. The Saints could also look to use their first round pick on a pass rusher, or even trade up for one like they did for Davenport a few years back. I would love to keep Hendrickson around, as he had a great season and you can never have enough pass rushers, but unless he is willing to stay in New Orleans for less money, the Saints will most likely not be able to afford to keep him in town.
The question then becomes which players will the Saints try and keep around that won’t break the bank. P.J. Williams would be a good player to retain in order to provide depth to the secondary, and Kwon Alexander could be resigned at a bargain given he is coming off of an Achilles injury. I would prioritize these two players over players such as Alex Anzalone and Sheldon Rankins. I could see Zack Baun easily sliding into the void left by Anzalone, while David Onyemata has been more productive and more reliable than Rankins from the defensive tackle position over the past two years.
If you would like to read more on who the Saints should resign this offseason you can check out this article by our own Kade Kistner.
How much impact will the coaching/front office departures have
The Saints have lost coaches Joe Lombardi, Dan Campbell, and Aaron Glenn to coordinator/head coaching hires, and also lost assistant GM Terry Fontenot to the Atlanta Falcons. Lombardi, Campbell, and Glenn had all been with the Saints since 2016, while Fontenot has been with the team since 2003.
Aaron Glenn spent the last five seasons as the Saints defensive backs coach before being hired this offseason to be the Lions next defensive coordinator. The three time All-Pro cornerback got his start on the sidelines with the Cleveland Browns before joining the Saints in 2016. The Saints defense has improved each year he was in New Orleans, going from 31st the year before he was hired, to 4th the year he departed.
Glenn coached the defensive rookie of the year in Marshon Lattimore and also had players like Marcus Williams and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson playing at much higher levels than they were projected to on draft day. He easily could have been in line to be the Saints next defensive coordinator if Dennis Allen were to step back into head coaching, and his presence will certainly be missed on the Saints sideline. Senior defensive assistant Peter Giunta is a name to keep an eye on to replace Glenn, as he previously served as the DB’s coach for the New York Giants during both of their Super Bowl runs under Tom Coughlin.
“We’re gonna kick you in the teeth, and when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re gonna get up. And on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off.”— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 21, 2021
New @Lions HC Dan Campbell had quite the introductory press conference pic.twitter.com/cWJTSFtJAQ
Tight Ends coach & assistant Head Coach Dan Campbell is also on his way to the Motor City. Campbell was hired to be the Lions next Head Coach after spending five seasons in New Orleans. Despite being hired as the head man in Detroit, I feel this departure will be the least consequential for the Saints. The Saints offense is in good hands with Sean Payton at the helm, so they are more likely to stay the course despite losing certain position coaches. Dennis Allen is also more likely to be hired away as head coach than Pete Carmichael is, so it was unlikely that Campbell would have been promoted within the Saints organization in the near future. Jared Cook’s 2019 campaign was the most successful a Saints TE had under Campbell, as the 10-year veteran had arguably his best season last year. Despite this, the Saints have not really relied on the tight end position for much production since trading away Jimmy Graham in 2015, so I feel Campbell’s departure will not be felt too heavily.
Outside of a two year stint in Detroit, Joe Lombardi has been a part of the Saints coaching staff every year since 2007. He will now be headed out west to Los Angeles for his second shot as an offensive coordinator, this time with the Chargers. Meanwhile, the Saints will be in search of a new quarterback for the first time in 15 years, making this not an ideal time to lose your quarterbacks coach. However, most of the names being floated around as potential successors to Drew Brees are veteran players like Jameis Winston or Matt Stafford, so I believe losing Lombardi will not be as consequential as some might think. The Saints may very well draft a quarterback in the 1st round that they see starting one day, but I doubt they will go into Week 1 in 2021 with a rookie as their starting QB.
Terry Fontenot has been in New Orleans since 2003, starting out as a scout before working his way up the ladder to become assistant general manager and vice president of pro personnel. Unfortunately for Saints fans, the Falcons finally did something smart and hired Fontenot to be their new GM, the first African-American to hold that position in the 55 glorious years of Falcons football. Fontenot played a large part in the greatest era of Saints football, and in building what many say is currently the most well-balanced roster in the NFL. Fortunately for the Saints, Fontenot was unable to convince salary cap specialist Khai Harley to follow him to Atlanta, so for now it seems the financial department of the Saints brass is still in tact.
Latest intel: Khai Harley is not a target to go to ATL with new Falcons GM Terry Fontenot. For now at least, Harley is staying with the Saints.— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) January 25, 2021
Fontenot served as director of pro scouting from 2013-2019, so, while he was certainly involved in the decision making, he was not the main force behind the drafts for the Saints in recent years. The Saints have built through the draft incredibly well the last few years, with over half of the starters being acquired through that medium. Losing Fontenot of course is a major blow to the front office, but Saints fans should not be overly worried about the Saints draft success dropping off due to his departure.
All four departures could potentially hurt the Saints in some way, perhaps not in 2021, but losing personnel who could potentially become your next defensive coordinator or general manager could be detrimental to the long term management of the team. Terry Fontenot is still just 40 years old, despite spending 17 years with the Saints. He would have been a prime candidate to take over if Mickey Loomis were to retire. Dennis Allen may very well become a head coach again next season if the Saints defense keeps up its stellar play, meaning Aaron Glenn would have been in line to take over the defense. The Saints will need to have four quality hires if they want to keep up their run as one of the better organizations in the NFL.
Who the Saints will select as their next quarterback
With Drew Brees likely retiring soon, the Saints will enter the 2021 offseason in search of a quarterback for the first time since 2006. I recently wrote a piece examining options for the Saints quarterback search that can be read here, but a few new developments have come to light since then that warrant further discussion.
The first of which is Deshaun Watson announcing that his preferred destinations would be New York or Miami. These two organizations I feel have the best chance of landing Watson, not just because they are his preferred destinations, but because they can offer the Texans the chance to draft their next franchise QB. The Saints cannot make such an offer to Houston, as they lack the draft capital that the Jets and Dolphins currently possess. I believe an offer of a top 3 pick among other assets would be much more intriguing to the Texans than anything the Saints could offer, and now that Watson has stated he is willing to play in either location, it is likely that he will ultimately wind up in the AFC East.
Deshaun Watson reportedly prefers the Jets over the Dolphins, due to the presence of Robert Saleh https://t.co/jtsKj0avdy— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 23, 2021
Another potential option for the Saints new QB would be Matthew Stafford. The former #1 overall pick has mutually agreed to part ways with the Lions, the team who he has been with for his entire career. He has been an underrated quarterback on a terrible team for most of his career, throwing for 4,000+ yards in 8 of the last 10 seasons, but only being named to one Pro Bowl. Stafford will be 33 in February, but certainly has more good football left in him as he just passed for 4,084 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2020. The Saints should certainly explore a trade for Stafford, as he would be a better option then either of the quarterbacks currently on the roster, and would be easier to acquire than a player like Deshaun Watson.
Other options for the Saints could be found on the current roster in the form of Jameis Winton or Taysom Hill, or through the draft with players like Mac Jones or Kyle Trask. However, I believe Stafford is the most realistic option that would produce the best results for the Saints. Stafford would come with a large cap hit, and Detroit would likely want a good amount of draft capital in return, but Stafford could potentially be an upgrade over how Brees was playing at the end of 2020. If the Saints can manage to create enough cap space to add Stafford while keeping the defense intact, they should make every attempt at a trade with the Lions.
If you would like to read an in-depth look at Matthew Stafford you can check out this article by our own Ross Jackson.
However this offseason turns out for the Saints, the most important thing will be maintaining the culture the organization has built over the past 15 years. Despite Brees potentially retiring, Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis are not going anywhere soon, so the backbone of the organizational and coaching sides of the team remain in the bui. Both will have to work hard to find a new quarterback and keep the defense from collapsing if they are to maintain the Saints on-field success however, as despite many disappointing finishes, they have been one of the most successful franchises in recent years.
Maintaining that level of success in the first year of real uncertainty in New Orleans since Brees’s arrival will be the highest priority if the Saints are to avoid having a season like the New England Patriots had in 2020. Despite keeping most of the front office and coaching staff around, a failure to find a new quarterback and keep the defense together caused the Patriots to miss the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. If the Saints are going to avoid a similar fate, they will need to perform as well in the offseason as they have on the field over the last four years.
What do you think will be the biggest storyline of the 2021 offseason? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, follow us on Twitter @SaintsCSC, on Instagram at @SaintsCSC, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @HaydenReel.