New Orleans Saints: big decisions await the saints in 2020

For the third straight year the New Orleans Saints season ended in frustration after promising so much. After going 13-3 in the regular season they were then effectively neutralised by the Vikings, as they lost at home in the first round of the playoffs. While they might look back on the loss to the Vikings this offseason, their problems stemmed from a disappointing loss to the Falcons at home in the middle of the season which cost them a first-round bye.

The Saints potentially got a vision of their future this season when Drew Brees went down in Week 2 with a thumb injury. They were forced to start a backup quarterback for a reasonable period, and actually went unbeaten in that stretch. With Drew Brees a free agent this offseason that stretch of play will give the Saints a lot to think about in the coming months. Could there be a big offseason of change coming in New Orleans?

General Manager: Mickey Loomis

Head Coach: Sean Payton

Loomis and Payton came together in 2006 and have had a lot of success since. In 14 seasons they have never lost more than nine games, won a Super Bowl and made the playoffs eight times. Additionally, in those 14 years the Saints have only ever put up a negative points differential three time, demonstrating how successful they have been in the regular season.

However, questions do need to be asked about their playoff form. In the last decade they have made the playoffs six time and never been to the Super Bowl. There has been some bad luck for sure, but not putting teams away when they are clearly the more talented team is extremely concerning. Since winning their Super Bowl in 2009 they are 4-6 in the playoffs, which you can look at in two ways. 10 playoff games in a decade is something many teams would dream of, but you would have hoped to convert one of those into a second Super Bowl. 

Now with question marks around the future of the quarterback position, has the ship sailed for the Saints? Depending on who is under centre in 2020, Loomis and Payton are going to either have another short window, or the need to reinvent to set them up for another decade of success.

Cap Space: $12.4 million

With no recognised quarterback under contract entering the offseason, the Saints cap space is somewhat of a headache. Cap space issues can be over rated because creating cap space with restructures and cuts is commonplace, but for a team hoping to compete for a Super Bowl place in 2020 the lack of flexibility is a concern. 

In terms of creating cap space by cuts there are some options but not many easy decisions. Left tackle Terron Armstead and guard Larry Warford could add close to $18 million in cap space. Warford ($8.5m) is the more likely cut, with Armstead one of the best offensive lineman in the league.

Other big money names on the chopping block are Janoris Jenkins ($11.25m), Demario Davis ($5.3m), Jared Cook ($5m), Kiko Alonso ($7.85m) and Sheldon Rankins ($7.7m). Of these options Davis is the only defensive player to play over 50% of the Saints snaps this season, with Jenkins logging the lowest at below 10%. Injuries meant that Cook only accounted for 47.4% of the offensive snaps this season, but his contribution on the field outweighed the other tight ends in New Orleans by a considerable margin.

Impending Free Agents

Saints, New Orleans Saints

This conversation starts with Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater and really does not go anywhere until that situation is sorted. Depending on the decisions made at the quarterback position will largely affect the rest of the offseason strategy. Even Bridgewater is going to command a reasonable contract this offseason after proving himself a competent starter in Brees’ absence. According to Spotrac’s market value calculator, Brees is liekly to command a salary in the $35 million region, with Bridgewater sitting in the $20 million region.

When you then throw into the mix that Taysom Hill is a restricted free agent as well things get even more complicated. Hill has been a massive part of the Saints offense this season and they will want to utilise him again. However, with teams seeing his utility in the passing, running and receiving game it would not be a shock to see another franchise offer him a contract that challenges the Saints resolve this offseason.

The secondary will be another interesting area when it comes to the Saints free agents.

Team Needs

Major Need: Quarterback

The quarterback situation has been discussed above but it is so important for the shot and long term it needed addressing again. If the Saints do bring Brees back then they lock up the short-term future of the franchise, but it leaves the long-term future needing to be addressed. Whether that is through another reasonably young veteran backup along the lines of Bridgewater or through a draft and develop process is an interesting plot of this offseason.

A potential long- and short-term solution would be to brng Bridgewater back. However, if he is then a disappointment the Saints could lock themselves into an expensive contract without solving the problem of the most important position in the league.

A potential name to watch here might be Marcus Mariota. The Saints have given Bridgewater two contracts as a backup and Mariota’s style combined with Hill could be fascinating. This team is set up to win now and with Brees’ age it is likely the Saints will not want a rookie taking meaningful snaps if he goes down. It would not be a shock to see them bring in another veteran backup and add a mid- to late-round quarterback in the draft.

Major Need: Secondary

The Saints defense ranked 11th in DVOA this year thanks in large part to their 13th ranking against the pass. Their defensive line ranked among the top-10 in adjusted sack rate indicating that a lot of the failings this season fall on their secondary. With a number of key contributors this season free agents this year it is a position that Saints will likely look to address, be that with a veteran presence in free agency or a rookie in the draft. 

Ben Rolfe

Head of NFL Content



Image credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports