Speculation persists surrounding the off-season decision of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The assumption in the media is Brees will announce his retirement from an amazing playing career. However, the quarterback will not be the only change in New Orleans this off-season. In fact, the New Orleans Saints off-season could see many changes.
New Orleans Saints off-Season of Change
Who Will Be the Quarterback?
With Brees’ likely retirement, the Saints will be tasked with finding a new franchise quarterback for the first time in 15 years. Sean Payton has praised the talents of do-it-all action man quarterback Taysom Hill for several seasons. However, the fact remains Hill has only four career starts at quarterback.
In Hill’s four-game audition as the starter in 2020, the team went 3-1. However, Hill’s worst performance came in his final start, a 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. But Hill completed 72% of his passes in four starts, surprising a lot of critics with his accuracy. However, there remain flaws in his game that need to be ironed out if he is to become the full-time starter.
Jameis Winstons’ one-year contract he signed with the Saints last off-season expires at the end of the season. That adds an extra complication if Payton believes Winston can become the full-time starter. Still only 27, there’s a lot of upside to Winston’s game. The big question is whether Payton believes a year in his system is enough for Winston to eradicate the flaws he showcased in five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Or do the Saints look outside their building? Mathew Stafford is available for trade from the Detroit Lions. A boatload of veteran quarterbacks with starting experience are set to be free agents this off-season. However, the Saints well known cap issues will restrict Sean Payton’s options in selecting his first post-Drew Brees era quarterback.
New Orleans Saints 2021 Free Agents
The New Orleans’ front office needs to work their magic and create some wiggle room. They are projected to be $112 million over the cap for the 2021 season. That will change, as the Saints have become masters at manipulating their cap over the years. Contract restructures, increased signing bonuses, and pushing money into the future is normal for the Saints.
The Saints currently have 21 of their players heading toward free agency starting March 17th. In addition, 19 of those payers are unrestricted free agents (UFA), including several key starters from the team that went 12-4 in 2020.
Among them, breakout defensive end Trey Hendrickson had a career season in the final year of his rookie deal. The former third-round pick piled up the second-most sacks in the league in 2020, with 13.5. With Hendrickson likely to make north of $10 million per season, it is unlikely he will remain in New Orleans.
Marcus Williams and Sheldon Rankins are two more high profile players it will be difficult for the Saints to retain. Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk, both 2017 first-round picks, remain under team control for 2021 on fifth-year options. However, both are due for contract extensions next off-season, if they don’t get a new deal done before that. But, given their salary cap issues, it will be difficult for the Saints to retain all, or possibly even most, of their free agents.
Coaching Staff and Front Office
The price playoff teams have to pay for their success is the likelihood staff members will leave for promotions elsewhere. Several coaches and front office staff have already left New Orleans.
Quarterback coach Joe Lombardi was a popular interview for offensive coordinator roles. He agreed to take on that responsibility with the Los Angeles Chargers. Additionally, in the front office, director of pro scouting Terry Fontenot has left to take the Atlanta Falcons general manager position.
The key pieces of the coaching staff and front office in terms of titles remain. However, each staff member already out the door was highly thought of in New Orleans. Secondly, the staff members who have left are in key positions around the league to make the opposition better. This is particularly true in the case of Fontenot with the in-division Atlanta Falcons.
Finally, there is a clear loss in continuity when a team has to replace assistant and position coaches. New Orleans needs to make sure the new coaches they hire fit with the winning culture Payton has established in New Orleans.
This is a massive off-season for the New Orleans Saints. Previous decisions and contract negotiations have been based on going all in to win a Super Bowl. They fell short of that goal this season. Now, the Saints will aim to keep as much of the NFC South winning roster together as they can, while trying to remain a contender in the long term. This off-season could be critical for the Saints.