News of Michael Thomas’s ankle surgery in June sent ripples throughout the New Orleans Saints world last week. That came to a head on Monday, when Thomas was placed on the physically unable to perform list, knocking him out until at least Week 7 (against the Seahawks). It’s another blow to a Saints offense that has taken lick after lick and hasn’t done much to address it.
The Saints signed Chris Hogan on Monday in response to the news and calling it a downgrade would be a bit of an understatement. The wide receiver depth chart for the Saints is now Hogan, Tre’quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and Juwan Johnson. That’s in no particular order, but to be frank, the order doesn’t matter much. The overarching point is that the wide receiver position is completely borked without Thomas, and is in the basement of the league corps wise.
This means that, once again, the Saints must ask too much of Sean Payton. Payton has made Drew Brees being injured work twice in the past two seasons, and last year he did it with his safety net Thomas hobbled with the very ankle injury sidelining him to start this year. So what do you do when you have no one to throw the ball to? Enter Taysom Hill.
The Saints have to walk a tightrope with Alvin Kamara this year. He can’t be their sole means of picking up yardage all season. And if Jameis Winston is throwing to no one to start the year, it’s going to be a very long season for Saints fans. That means that Sean Payton might have to throw away the playbook and be as completely insane as possible on offense to drive the Saints offense.
What does the blueprint for that look like? Good news! We already have it. Just look at last season when Drew Brees was injured. Hill ended up starting — shocking everyone at the time — and went 3-1. Granted, two of those wins came against a Falcons team that already seemed checked out and a Broncos team that literally (and this cannot be emphasized enough) didn’t have a quarterback on the roster. But ultimately, as long as wins and losses is inexplicably counted as a quarterback stat, that’s what people are going to see.
By no means is this a slight on Winston either. But 48 percent of his yards in 2019 (his 5,000-yard season) went to either Mike Evans or Chris Godwin. He is a player who relies on his best receivers. As he should! But it would be a disservice to him to throw him out with only a running back to throw to.
There is, of course, one glaring issue. What ever happened to playing the best on your roster? It would be very difficult to argue against Winston being a better quarterback than Hill. However, as a coach, you play with the hand you’re dealt with. And right now, Payton is being dealt a hand with effectively no wide receivers except for a running back.
So, what does all of this mean for Kamara? Since the first year of his career, he has accounted for a quarter of the Saints’ total offense. That’s been a steady number throughout his career and if he goes higher, the Saints risk hampering his health. He should see a normal workload, the only difference between Winston and Hill starting would ultimately be his route tree.
Starting Hill isn’t punting on the season. On the contrary, it’s doing what’s necessary to keep the Saints’ opponents on their heels. Winston deserves a chance in training camp to compete for the starting job. But ultimately, the gadgetry that Hill enables would allow the Saints to hold the ball and mitigate a lack of talent at skill positions. Winston is a pure pocket passer and even with the Saints’ outstanding offensive line, he will struggle if his receivers can’t get open.
To put it simply: Screw it. Let’s get weird.
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