The New Orleans Saints have had a long run among the best teams in the National Football League. That may be coming to an end in 2021 with an off-season rife with bad news for the team. The Saints issues are beginning to accumulate with the preseason on the horizon. Expectations are at a low not seen in many years in the Bayou. An unsettled quarterback position, an untimely surgery, multiple arrests, and a suspension are eating away at the team’s roster. Head coach Sean Payton has his work cut out for him in keeping the Saints in the NFC’s playoff picture in 2021.
Multiple New Orleans Saints Issues Appearing in Off-season
The retirement of Drew Brees started an off-season of instability for New Orleans. Since Brees arrived in 2006, the Saints have gone 150-90. The team never won fewer than seven games and piled up seven division titles over those 15 seasons. There was the 2009 Super Bowl victory and a few more close calls along the way. The stability Brees and Payton brought with them is impressive in a league where success is hard to sustain. There is a major question mark at quarterback now with Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston competing (or possibly sharing) the number one role. That is not the only problem the Saints are facing before the 2021 season.
Suspension, Surgery, and Arrests…Oh My
Making matters worse for the Saints was news of a six-game suspension for breakout defensive tackle David Onyemata earlier this month. The suspension is due to a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Onyemata had a career-high 6.5 sacks and 44 tackles in 2020 and was essential on the line.
Michael Thomas is expected to be sidelined for at least four months after undergoing surgery to repair ankle ligaments. The timing of the June surgery means Thomas will miss regular-season action. The 2019 AP Offensive Player of the Year will be difficult to replace in the offense. Since coming into the league in 2016, Thomas has caught 510 passes for 5,950 yards in 70 games played. The depth chart is thin at receiver after Emmanuel Sanders left for Buffalo in free agency.
New Orleans is hoping for a leap from Tre’Quan Smith, who had 34 catches for 448 yards last season. The former third-round pick does not profile as a number one option but he may need to be until Thomas is back. Beyond that are Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, and the recently signed Chris Hogan. The team is bracing for a suspension with Harris, who was arrested for a DUI earlier in July. Callaway caught 21 of 27 targets last year and Hogan is 33 years old, leaving more questions than answers.
Harris is not the only player in legal trouble, as star cornerback Marshon Lattimore was arrested on suspicion of possessing a stolen handgun in March. The three-time Pro Bowl selection is integral to the defense. Any suspension will further complicate the Saints issues going forward.
Outlook for 2021 Season with Saints Issues Adding Up
The Saints team win total is at nine for the upcoming season, which may be enough to squeak into the playoffs. With a 17th game on the schedule, nine wins could leave them on the outside looking in. That number is trending down from when totals were first posted in Vegas. Bookmakers and bettors alike are reading the news. The team is definitely going to be missing two, if not three or four, key contributors to start the year. This is not even taking into account injuries, aside from Thomas, but the timing of his surgery is another issue entirely.
The defense is still deep for New Orleans but the offense is beginning to look thin, at best. The Saints will need to rely on that defense, which ranked second in Football Outsiders DVOA metric in 2020. The offense is almost certainly heading for pre-Brees levels of mediocrity even with one of the best play-callers in football.
New Orleans will be relying heavily on Alvin Kamara and a strong defense to cover up for these issues. Will that be enough to keep the team in the hunt for the playoffs? Any additional appearances on police blotters or Roger Goodell’s desk could turn this season into a disaster.
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