The start of the NFL season is still about 5 months away, but that hasn’t stopped the prediction business in the world of sports. ESPN threw their name in the hat as they recently released their post free agency power rankings. The rankings are based on projecting how well teams did signing big name free agents, trading for star players, and retaining core members of their own team. Being that the New Orleans Saints entered the offseason needing to clear nearly $100 million in cap money, the latter scenario was the more likely route for this team to take.
Since the Saints didn’t make any splashy moves, ESPN ranked them at No. 16 on the list. This was actually three spots below were they were originally placed at the conclusion of the season. Mike Triplett of ESPN summarized the Saints’ free agency this way:
Let’s face it, the Saints did a lot more subtracting than adding — losing Drew Brees to retirement and a handful of other starters because they were about $100 million over the salary cap. But they made it a priority to keep as much elite talent as possible, including pending 2022 free agents Ryan Ramczyk and Marshon Lattimore. And they kept critical 2021 free agents Jameis Winston and Marcus Williams. QB is obviously the biggest wild card, but this roster is still loaded enough to compete for a fifth straight NFC South title.
Looking around the division, the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers came in second on the list as they impressively are returning all 22 starters from last year’s Super Bowl team. The Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons fall in spots 23 and 24 respectively, as both teams were pretty quiet during the free agency period.
While the retirement of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees will leave the quarterback position with question marks heading into the season, Coach Payton had been resolute in saying that the heir apparent to Drew was already in the building. The Saints doubled down on this as they re-signed Jameis Winston to a 1-year deal, allowing him to compete with Taysom Hill for the starting quarterback spot.
Casualties from the Saints’ cap situation did manifest themselves as they lost the likes of Janoris Jenkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, and Josh Hill among others. The cap situation also meant they couldn’t re-sign guys like Trey Hendrickson as well. Despite those losses the Saints still boast a super talented roster that should no doubt be in the thick of things for the division title.
Couple that with the Saints ability to draft well and this should easily be a retooling season and not a rebuilding one. This was a team who, for all intents and purposes, was a Jared Cook fumble away from reaching the NFC Title game last season. The team may look different in some areas on paper, but the expectations with the culture built here remains the same. So while ESPN has the Saints middle of the pack as of now, it’s not about how you start, but how you finish. Someone dust off my 2009 Saints “Finish Strong” t-shirt.
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