The 2020 season ended like the past three have for the New Orleans Saints…in disappointment. This time it was by the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints couldn’t beat their NFC South foes for a third time, and the Bucs went on to win the Super Bowl while sending Drew Brees off into the sunset.
Despite losing Michael Thomas for much of the season and Brees for four games, the Saints finished fifth in the NFL in points scored (482). Their defense also performed well led by Trey Hendrickson’s 13.5 sacks. They also stopped the run well boasting a top-5 rushing defense.
The elephant in the room is, of course, who will replace Brees as the man under center. Taysom Hill stepped into the starting role at quarterback for four games this season and went 3-1. He played well totaling 1,043 yards from scrimmage (209 rushing) and scoring eight times (four rushing). Granted, those games were against the Atlanta Falcons twice and a Denver Broncos team with a practice squad player at QB. The loss came to the Philadelphia Eagles, but let’s take the positives where we can get them.
Jameis Winston seems the most likely scenario aside from Hill at this point. He is familiar now with Sean Payton’s playbook and likely won’t command an exorbitant salary. Winston has the arm talent and is only 27 years old while Hill will be 31 in August and is on the last year of his contract.
Pending Free Agents
According to overthecap.com, the Saints currently have 24 players still on the open market. There are some significant players who will be playing elsewhere in 2021 as the Saints are in cap hell. They are dead last with a $69 million deficit. Not only will it be next to impossible for New Orleans to go out and bring in help, but they can’t even re-sign their own players. Let’s take a look at a few significant losses the Black and Gold will have to endure.
Trey Hendrickson, Edge
While Cameron Jordan was taking up the double teams and chipping backs, Hendrickson was busy getting to the quarterback. He led the team with 13.5 sacks. The 26-year-old is going to get paid in a big way and the Saints can only sit by and watch him terrorize quarterbacks for another team.
Jameis Winston, Quarterback
Depending on what kind of market develops for the former number one pick, the Saints may actually bring him back. He made $1.1 million last year and only threw 11 passes. The Saints would likely have to bring him back on a backloaded long-term deal as Hill will be a free agent after this season.
Marcus Williams, Safety
The former second-round pick out of Utah will be testing the market this year for the first time. He has been a solid contributor for the Saints in his four seasons averaging 61 tackles, three picks, and eight passes defended. Although Williams played 84.1% of defensive snaps last year, the Saints have some depth in their secondary even with P.J. Williams also leaving in free agency.
Alex Anzalone, Linebacker
Anzalone was also drafted in 2017 and will be an unrestricted free agent. While he has had his share of injuries and inconsistency, he did play in just over half the snaps last season. Along with Craig Robertson leaving, the Saints have to hope that Zack Baun can step up this season. Demario Davis can’t do it all.
Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle
The former first-round pick looked like he was coming into his own in 2018 with eight sacks and a second season in a row of starting all 16 games. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Rankins lost his starting spot and played in fewer than 40% of the snaps last season.
Jared Cook, Tight End
The 12-year vet was a solid addition to the Saints a couple of years ago. He will be 34 years old in April and is moving on. New Orleans drafted Adam Trautman in the third round last year and the rookie looked good in limited time catching 15-of-16 passes.
Potential Cap Casualties
The Saints have their work cut out for them. Mickey Loomis has managed to work wonders with cap space over the past few years especially. He has been the New Orleans GM for 20 years and his moxie will be put to the test this offseason. Look for the Saints to cut and/or trade some important pieces and hope that Payton and his crew can hit on a few players in the draft as they have recently.
Kwon Alexander, LB ($13.1 Million Saved)
This one is a no-brainer. Although Anzalone is gone along with Robertson, the Saints just can’t afford to keep an injury-prone player like Alexander. He was a solid addition to the team and played well with Davis for New Orleans. However, the money saved here makes this an easy decision for Loomis, whereas a really tough decision will be what to do with…
Ryan Ramczyk, OT ($11 Million Saved)
One of the best in the business is definitely worth every penny of his fifth-year option of just over $11 million which becomes guaranteed on March 17. However, the Saints cap situation is dire, to say the least. While he may not be cut outright, Ramczyk should be one of the first players Loomis approaches about a long-term deal to kick some money down the line. Another one of those guys is…
Marshon Lattimore, CB ($10.2 Million Saved)
Another mainstay in Black and Gold for the past four years, Lattimore is due just over $10.2 million on March 17. They should absolutely try and work out a deal with the former first-round pick out of Ohio State. He is a top-10 corner in the league and the Saints will need him to cover the stud receivers in the NFC South alone like Julio Jones and Mike Evans. Keeping Lattimore in the Big Easy may be even more important when the Saints likely move on from…
Janoris Jenkins, CB ($7 Million Saved)
Jenkins will be 33 in October and although he played pretty well for the Saints last season, he isn’t worth the $14.25 million he is due this year. The Saints can save about half that if he is cut. There is a possibility he restructures his contract, but the savings would have to be worth it for the Saints to keep him on the roster.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR ($6.5 Million Saved)
The veteran had a very good year for the Saints. Projected as the number-two receiver opposite Thomas, Sanders had to step into the main role with Thomas missing most of the season. New Orleans can certainly find a replacement for the soon-to-be 34-year-old. Whether that is through the draft or an extension for…
Tre’Quan Smith, WR ($2.2 Million Saved)
Smith set career-highs in his third year in the league with 34 catches and 448 yards receiving. While the numbers don’t jump off the page, the 6’2 wideout is entering the final year of his contract and would likely be willing to agree to a few more years at a team-friendly price.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
LOL… yeah, right! Who are we freaking kidding! Saints can’t afford a card box fan cut out right now with their cap situation.
Previewing the Draft
Payton and the Saints have done well in recent years getting most of their integral players through the draft since 2016. While New Orleans is in a different position this year with the cap, that may not preclude Payton from still moving up on Day One or Two. The Saints moved into the first round to draft Ramczyk by trading Brandin Cooks to New England. They also moved up to grab Marcus Davenport in 2018. Don’t be surprised if the Saints move up to grab a couple of playmakers and fill the rest of the holes on their roster through undrafted free agents.
Round 1, Pick 28: Cornerback
With Jenkins likely a cap casualty and Lattimore’s situation uncertain, the Saints need to address the secondary. Here is where Payton may look to move up. Instead of hoping someone like Jaycee Horn, Asante Samuel Jr., or Caleb Farley falls to them, the Saints could package a few picks and grab one of the top corners. With the loss of Marcus Williams also, don’t be shocked if New Orleans grabs safety Trevon Moehrig out of TCU.
Round 2, Pick 60: Linebacker
With Alexander likely being cut and Anzalone departing in free agency, the Saints need to shore up the second level of their defense and give Davis some help. Here is another pick that could be packaged to allow the Saints to move up if they really want someone like Zaven Collins or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. If they stay put with this pick, a player like Jabril Cox or Justin Hilliard could be the choice.
Early 2021 Expectations
There are a ton of questions surrounding what this team will look like next season. If Loomis can work his money magic and Payton can have another excellent draft, the Saints could return to the playoffs and simply retool instead of completely rebuilding. Things have to go right for New Orleans but one thing is certain – There will be plenty of new faces wearing Black and Gold next year.
Check us out on our socials:
Twitter: @PTSTNews and @TalkPrimeTime
Facebook Page: Prime Time Sports Talk
Join our Facebook Group: Prime Time Sports Talk
Follow Johnnie Black on Twitter @jball0202
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images