After Drew Brees retired last offseason and Sean Payton recently stepped down, it seems the golden age of the New Orleans Saints is over. Additionally, the team’s four-year playoff streak ended with a 9-8 regular-season record. The team is also in a horrible situation with their cap space, so there are question marks all over the place there. Uncertainty is off the charts for this football team, and the Saints may have some seriously dark days ahead of them. This offseason is crucial, so let’s see if they can make the most of it.
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Pending Free Agents
According to Over the Cap, the Saints have the worst cap situation in the league. They are about $76 million in the hole, $25 million more than the second-worst team. While this does look awful, Mickey Loomis always finds a way out of the hole. There will be a ton of restructured contracts and cap casualties, however, the Saints will get out of it again without all too much damage.
For the past nine years, New Orleans’ cornerstone left tackle has been officially slated to hit the open market. After a five-year, $65 million contract, Armstead is now a free agent and will entertain offers from other teams. This is the first big hit that the Saints will have to take this offseason as they don’t have the money to re-sign Armstead to another big-time contract, which he will get being just 30-years old.
A one-year $10.6 million contract franchise tag was inked between the Saints and Williams last season, but it seems as if his time in New Orleans may be up. For the past five years, Williams has been a key guy in the Saints’ secondary, wracking up 15 interceptions from his safety spot. The positional value for safeties is low, thus, Williams is a little more replaceable than the likes of Armstead.
Probably the biggest question for the Saints this offseason is what to do at quarterback? Before tearing his ACL last season, Winston had led the Saints to a 5-2 record off of very efficient play. Taysom Hill and Ian Book for New Orleans are on the books, two guys who have not proved they can win games more than Winston can. So, does this team head towards a rebuild at the quarterback through the draft? No. The thought process here is to re-sign Winston around the $5.5 million mark that he came on for last year. Hopefully, he doesn’t get hurt now and can propel this team to the record he left off with last season.
Potential Cap Casualties
This is an area we should see the Saints dip their toes in a good amount this offseason. New Orleans has only one player north of $5 million in savings. However, there are bits and pieces around the board that will be shaved off. This isn’t the most glamorous part of the Saints’ offseason as they are masters of the restructure, and that’s where the cap space will open up.
Bradley Roby ($9.5 Million Saved)
Roby is basically good as gone from this team. Cutting him will save the most money from any player by over $5.5 million. Additionally, the Saints are perfectly fine at cornerback, with Marshon Lattimore still on the roster and Paulson Adebo on the come-up. If Roby is in New Orleans next season, it will be shocking.
Mark Ingram ($2.5 Million Saved)
The story of Ingram returning to New Orleans was a nice one, but there’s no real reason he should stay. Even with Alvin Kamara‘s future up in the air, running back is far and away the most replaceable position in football. The Saints can find a ball carrier in free agency or the draft that can put up better numbers than Ingram while saving them cap space.
Malcolm Jenkins ($3.8 Million Saved)
This one is the most unlikely of the three we’ve mentioned, but the reward in cap space is too big to pass upon. Jenkins has been very solid for the Saints the last few years, but losing two secondary guys in one offseason is tough. It would be hard to find an instant replacement for less money. However, if the Saints want to get under the cap, they should cut Jenkins.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
With the cap space being so low, it’s unlikely that the Saints make any serious moves in free agency. They will most likely find replacements through the draft or get some rotational guys on lower contracts. With that being said, moves still need to be made, and there are plenty of players that could find themselves in a New Orleans uniform next season.
Morgan Moses, New York Jets
Moses’ market might be too far over the Saints’ price range, but something needs to be done to acquire a competent left tackle. At only 30 years old, Moses is an experienced player who could be the one and only “splash” move this offseason for New Orleans. He’ll be able to lock down that tackle spot for around three years until the Saints move on, hopefully in a better cap situation.
Terrence Brooks, Houston Texans
Brooks came over the Texans with several other players from the New England Patriots system in the last few years and comes off of a $1.7 million contract. He can be a rotational piece in the New Orleans secondary that is in need of replacing key guys, like Williams, at the safety spot. Brooks won’t be a big-name signing by any means, but the potential is there to play well with the Saints down the road.
Zach Pascal, Indianapolis Colts
The Saints have already stated that they would like to bring receiver Michael Thomas back next season, but you never know how many games you’ll get out of Thomas. So wide receiver is a clear need for the Saints, and Pascal is someone who can come in for about $3.5 million and add a much-needed threat to this receiving corps that didn’t do much in 2021.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
New Orleans comes into this draft with eight picks on hand. They most likely won’t use all of them, as this is a team in need of depth, so you never know what could happen. The Saints have one pick in every other round, but the fourth, where they have two selections. The great thing about this draft for New Orleans is that the players available fit what the Saints need. Most of the listed picks here are pretty interchangeable. The draft strategy for New Orleans should revolve around these positions, as well as the best available playing to their needs.
Round 1, Pick 18: Offensive Tackle/Wide Receiver
As we just mentioned, this can be interchangeable. Depending on who’s on the board, the Saints should go either tackle or receiver here. However, with the cream of the crop receivers expected to go earlier than 18, New Orleans turns to their biggest need. For tackle, names like Trevor Penning and perhaps even Charles Cross come to mind. If these two go earlier than 18, then the Saints can tap into receiver names like Treylon Burks, Jameson Williams, David Bell, and even Chris Olave if they are all still on the board.
Round 2, Pick 47: Wide Receiver/Offensive Tackle
Whichever of the two positions New Orleans takes in the first round, they should do the opposite in the second. If they go tackle, receivers like Christian Watson, John Metchie, and George Pickens could be right there for the taking at 47. If the Saints go receiver in the first, tackles such as Bernhard Raimann, Daniel Faalele, and Nicholas Petit-Frere are solid options for their second selection.
Round 3, Pick 99: Defensive Tackle
This is most likely the Saints’ third biggest need of the draft. One could argue tight end, although Adam Trautman is still a young player with some upside. As for players with a realistic chance of being here at 99, we look at defensive tackles with higher upside like Travis Jones. Other names that come to mind are Thomas Booker and Matthew Butler.
Early 2022 Expectations
The Saints have one of the toughest offseasons ahead of them. While this isn’t an organization that rebuilds much, if at all, they may need to take a step back here and rethink the win-now strategy. The first step starts with the quarterback position. If Winston is back, there is a legit chance New Orleans has a similar record to 2021. If the Saints decide to move on from Winston, they are in for a world of trouble with Hill at the helm.
This offseason should be one in which the Saints clear some cap space while focusing mainly on depth. Where they go with the first-rounder in the draft is huge as well because there is real star potential sitting at 18. All in all, this will be a team on the cusp of the playoffs, once again, should everything go swimmingly this offseason. The ceiling for New Orleans should be around 9-8, while the floor being 4-13.
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