The New Orleans Saints playoff hopes are officially gone. While they held up their end of the bargain with an upset victory over Philadelphia, Tampa Bay’s victory over the Carolina Panthers ensured that New Orleans will spend January watching football on the couch. So, with the 2022 season effectively over, it’s time for the Saints to start making plans for the offseason.
New Orleans Saints Offseason Checklist: How to Rebuild
Step 1: Get the Quarterback
Jameis Winston is under contract for the 2023 season, but it’s safe to assume that he will not be the Week 1 starter. The former first-round pick struggled early in the season before losing the job to Andy Dalton, and it’s hard to envision a world where he wins the job without a significant number of injuries. Dalton, meanwhile, is a free agent, and while he has played relatively well this year, he’s nobody’s idea of a franchise quarterback.
The quarterback is the most important position in football, so it stands to reason that finding a good option under center should be the Saints top offseason priority. Unfortunately, without a first-round pick, it’s going to be hard to secure a true franchise passer. That said, they can still upgrade the position by either trading for Derek Carr or going after a few intriguing free agents. Tom Brady is a clear upgrade, while guys like Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold could compete with Winston for the starting job.
.@TomBrady to @MikeEvans13_ today
– 63-yard TD
– 57-yard TD
– 30-yard TD pic.twitter.com/n8bacnNONd
— NFL (@NFL) January 1, 2023
Ultimately, while all three of those names would likely be upgrades, the best course of action is finding a way to land one of the promising young passers in the 2023 NFL Draft. While New Orleans currently doesn’t have the resources to draft a top quarterback, they might be able to find their guy if they trade away their former head coach.
Step 2: Trade Sean Payton
Reports everywhere indicate that former head coach Sean Payton wants to return to the sidelines in 2023, and that the Saints have no plans on moving on from current head coach Dennis Allen. There is a strong case to be made for keeping Dennis Allen as head coach, so that means the Saints will trade Payton at some point during the offseason. Payton is one of the NFL’s better coaches, and New Orleans should be able to get a first-round pick in exchange for his services.
In a perfect world, the Saints will find a way to trade Payton to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for their first-round pick. Arizona is currently 4-12, so this would likely be a top-five pick in a strong quarterback class. In a vacuum, a quarterback is more valuable than a head coach, however, the Cardinals already have their franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray, so they might be willing to make this trade.
The closest historical precedent we have here is when the Patriots gave up their first-round pick (16th overall) in the 2000 NFL Draft for Bill Belichick. At the time, Belichick was a relative unknown, having earned just one winning season during his five years as Cleveland’s head coach. If a coach with that type of resume justified the 16th-overall pick back then, then it stands to reason that a much more accomplished Sean Payton could net a top-five pick.
Step 3: Find More Weapons
The most important thing any team can do to build an annual competitor is to find a young franchise quarterback. The second-most-important thing is to surround that young quarterback with as much pass-catching talent as physically possible. Whether it’s Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, Tua Tagovailoa and Tryeek Hill/Jaylen Waddle, or Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase/Tee Higgins, it’s clear that all the best way to help develop a young quarterback is by giving him great weapons that can consistently get open and make plays downfield.
The good news is that the Saints already have one promising young playmaker in Chris Olave. Selected in the first round, the Ohio State product has been everything New Orleans could have ever hoped for, and then some. However, there is no real secondary option on the team. Michael Thomas is still technically on the roster, but after missing the majority of the past three seasons with injuries, the team shouldn’t rely on him for anything. Rashid Shaheed, meanwhile, has had a few nice games, but he’s probably better off as a complementary role player.
With this in mind, the Saints should think about targeting a solid #2 option like Juju Smith-Schuster or Jakobi Meyers. The Saints prefer a quick passing game, and both players excel at getting open early in the route and picking up those hard-earned yards while absorbing contact. With a potential superstar in Olave on the outside and a reliable threat over the middle, whoever ends up being the quarterback should be in a good position to succeed.