The New Orleans Saints are likely to look drastically different come next season. This offseason could define what the franchise looks like for seasons to come. As such, it is pertinent to look at what the biggest needs for the team are heading into this offseason and free agency.
With a smaller salary cap in 2021 due to COVID-19, many teams will be forced to release familiar names, many of which have already done so, as evidenced by the Houston Texans release of J.J. Watt. The Texans were not the first and will certainly not be the last when it comes to cutting veteran players to help make it under the new cap figure estimated to be around $180-185 million.
The Saints are in a similar situation to the rest of the league, if not a worse one. Despite clearing nearly $30 million worth of cap space over the course of the last week, New Orleans still sits about $66 million over the cap, but that number is far better than a week ago thanks to Drew Brees renegotiating his contract to free up space.
Clearly there will be cap casualties, and some marquee names have yet to be re-signed. Therefore, here are the biggest needs as of typing that need to be addressed before the 2021 season starts.
The quarterback position is a no-brainer. New Orleans has enjoyed 15 years of consistency at the position and has never had to worry who was going to start a season under center. The quarterback position has arguably made itself the most important position in all of sports. As such, it is imperative that the Saints figure out who is going to be commanding the offense next season. New Orleans has one of the best running backs in Alvin Kamara under contract and All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas is primed for a bounce back season in 2021. By all accounts this team can still be a Super Bowl contender, the one obstacle in its way? A quarterback.
Many have assumed that Jameis Winston will take over for life after Brees. Some think it will be Taysom Hill. However, the quarterback market has been hot, at least on the trade market side of things. That may make teams re-think how they approach free agents. Winston could be at the top of wish-list for a quarterback needy team that does not want to invest draft capital into the position. Signing Winston to a contract for the Saints is not a foregone conclusion. However, with the level of talent signed to long term deals on the team, this franchise should be prioritizing who is throwing the ball to them.
With Drew Brees’ retirement all but imminent at this point, all signs are pointing towards linebacker Demario Davis taking over as the team leader. Davis has proven through his actions in the pre-game huddle, his play, and most importantly, his community outreach, that he is a leader the franchise can depend on. Unfortunately, he can’t cover for the entire linebacking corps on his own.
.@Saints LB @demario__davis and @Ravens TE @Mandrews_81 are using their platform to change the lives of those in their communities.— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) February 12, 2021
Watch how NFL players from across the league are doing their part on tomorrow's episode of One Team: #ThePowerOfSports at 11:30am ET on @nbc. pic.twitter.com/cz6E4Oqake
Despite some bad “reporting” we have seen in the last few days, it is unlikely Kwon Alexander gets cut before free agency and subsequently saving the team space. For starters, Alexander would have to undergo a physical and pass it in order to enter free agency. With a torn Achilles tendon that is unlikely. As such, he has an injury guarantee for the upcoming season and the Saints would be smart to re-work that with him so he can play with the team in 2021 when he is healthy and potentially beyond. However, that is far from a guarantee. Zach Baun is a candidate to help out, but his 2020 season is far from what you would want to see from a player that could replace the presence of Kwon Alexander or even Alex Anazalone.
The New Orleans defense has been good, but a lot of it has flowed through the linebacking corps. If this is where the new leader of the franchise is going to live, then they need to address the position that will see potential loss from injury and free agency.
This need is easy to explain. Marcus Williams is a free agent, he has not re-signed with the Saints, and he has become an elite player at his position. Some New Orleans “fans” do not like Williams based off of some pass transgressions, but his improvement has been awe-inspiring.
Many credit the Saints secondary as one of the best and most reliable in franchise history. It is easy to look towards the “sexy” position of cornerback play like Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins for that. Instead, play and leadership by Williams has been a leading factor in supporting this secondary.
All the JJ Watt talk is fun, but I'm just sitting here hoping the Saints find a way to bring back Marcus Williams.— Chris Rosvoglou (@RosvoglouReport) February 12, 2021
I think the best is yet to come for 43.
Re-signing Williams should be a top priority for the Saints. Their secondary for years may come to depend on it as Marcus grows into a defensive leader. If they can’t afford Williams, then they need to sign someone who is equally as competent or has the ability to play at a similar level.
Interior Offensive Line
New Orleans has used their first picks the last few years on interior offensive linemen, so how could this once again be a need? For starters, the Saints just released veteran Nick Easton after he has dealt with numerous concussions and injuries over the course of the last couple of seasons. Easton has been wonderful at the depth position and competent as a starter. He even outclassed guard Andrus Peat, however, his time always seemed limited.
Speaking of Peat, despite a new five-year, $57.5 million contract last season, Peat has not been the player the Saints envisioned him being after the extension was doled out. None of this even mentions that both Erik McCoy and Cesar Ruiz were picked by the Saints with their top picks the last two drafts, proving New Orleans already prioritizes the offensive line. Both interior linemen have proven their worth and will help solidify the line for a long time. That being said, Peat’s current play, along with little additional interior depth, could spell disaster for the next quarterback and potentially the running game if injuries were to occur.
With little budget to work with this offseason, even a depth signing seems hard to see. The franchise could once again draft another interior offensive lineman in this year’s draft. Other than a quarterback, linemen are some of the best to build around for a sustainable and winning franchise
To be completely honest, it was hard picking between the tight end position and the defensive line. Yes, Sheldon Rankins and Trey Hendrickson may not be back, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Rankins was injured almost all of 2019, and until 2020 few knew who Hendrickson was. Claiming that those two helped create an elite defensive line the last three seasons is recency bias. They did however have an impact on a line that saw some of its veteran players take a step back last season.
That being said, tight end seems to be the bigger need. Jared Cook is out of a contract and most likely won’t be asked back. Josh Hill is a concussion liability and while he is a great blocker, he can’t be depended on for a full 16 games. 2020 rookie Adam Trautman has shown promise, and given the opportunity in 2021 he could be the starting tight end the Saints have been looking for.
All of that being said, the New Orleans offense has relied on the tight end and more reinforcements, competent ones at that, will need to be brought in to help ensure this offense continues to operate at its most efficient level. There are plenty of options on the free agent market, and in this atmosphere, New Orleans just might be able to snag a playmaker on a team-friendly deal.
What do you think are the Saints biggest needs? 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 Instagram at @SaintsCSC and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @KadeKistner.