The New Orleans Saints are in a position that is simultaneously enviable and miserable. They simply have too much talent to keep on the roster (without some crazy Mickey Loomis magic). Ryan Ramczyk was extended on Wednesday, much to the surprise of some fans, for a cool $96 million that freed up some money in the short term.
That leaves a few major players for the Saints who need to be addressed sooner than later. Some major players — Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara specifically — have already been addressed. But there’s still work to be done.
Here are the players the Saints should have as their top priorities heading into the 2021 season.
1.) Terron Armstead
A huge portion of the Saints’ success the past few seasons can be attributed to cohesion along the offensive line. It’s at a point where Saints fans can pick out who on the offensive line is performing poorly (which often leads to some Andrus Peat overreactions). Terron Armstead is the perfect complement to Ramczyk as a bookend on the offensive line of the Saints.
Communication begins with these two. They might be the best outside tandem in the NFL, and it would be hard to build a case against them. Cesar Ruiz needs to grow into himself on the interior line, but Armstead and Ramczyk should be kept together no matter who the Saints play at quarterback in the immediate future.
2.) Marshon Lattimore
Marshon Lattimore has had his ups and downs at corner, and his consistency does leave something to be desired. However, his ability to play outside and lock down top receivers in the NFL doesn’t just happen. Lattimore is the kind of player you have to pay to keep around, because other teams will be clamoring for him if he hits free agency.
The other reason this is such a huge need? The Saints are bare at cornerback right now. You can’t go into the future making up outside coverages as you go along, so reacquiring Lattimore has to be a huge need for the Saints right now. The 2017 draft pick isn’t perfect by any means, but starting from scratch is not a good alternative to re-signing him for the immediate future.
3.) Marcus Williams
Marcus Williams is playing under the franchise tag for the Saints in 2021, so there is some leverage there. Furthermore, at least publicly, he isn’t unhappy about doing so, so the interest is ostensibly mutual. Williams is one of the best free safeties in the NFL, and he deserves whatever payday is coming to him.
The only reason Williams is behind Lattimore is due to the importance of position, but these two are closer to 2a and 2b. Williams makes all of the corners he plays with better, and he allows them to take chances. If the Saints can lock him down long-term, then they have a lock-down safety long-term as well.
4.) Tre’Quan Smith
This is kind of a hopeful pick, as it requires Smith finally living up to his potential. It feels like Smith is good for several big plays a year, but he lacks consistency. It’s unrealistic to expect an 80-reception over three years player to suddenly break out into a No. 1 option, but that isn’t what he needs to be — presuming Thomas comes back healthy.
Smith runs decent routes and has slightly-above average to good hands, but he hasn’t really gotten chances to thrive in this offense. If he doesn’t produces this year, then perhaps he would welcome a change of scenery. But the Saints need a consistent No. 2 guy, and it would be ideal if Smith could become that player.
Inc.) Jameis Winston & Taysom Hill
Two things can be true. 1.) The Saints overpaid for Taysom Hill prior to the 2020 season. And 2.) Hill is a fun, fundamental part of their offense. It’s pretty clear by now that he isn’t — and shouldn’t be — the future of the franchise. What he is is a versatile player who Payton can do a lot of work with, whether it’s in goofy wildcat formations or just by lining him up at tight end. That’s not even to mention the very good work he does in special teams, which Saints fans will come to appreciate even more with Justin Hardee gunning for the New York Jets now.
The same might end up happening with Jameis Winston, who as of now is on an extended tryout basis. Winston could come out and kill it in New Orleans, but there is a nonzero chance he could flame out as well. If the Saints see signs he has it all figured out, expect to hear signs of extending him very early in the season, as teams aren’t afraid to take risks on quarterback reclamation projects.
If he struggles early, on the other hand, the Saints may have to fall into looking at the draft for quarterbacks, and that can turn into a tanking season very quickly. Winston has a lot of control over the situation right now, he just has to play into it.
The interesting thing about this is that if Winston plays well early, he immediately jumps to No. 1 on this list. The Saints, however, will likely take a wait and see approach to him this season, as they look to see if he’s reliable for them or the 30 touchdown 30 interception player he was in Tampa Bay.