John Lepore | January 23rd, 2020
It was supposed to be a deep Super Bowl run this season, but it ended abruptly at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings for the second time in three years as the New Orleans Saints lost in the Wild Card round 26-20 in overtime. Despite finishing 13-3, they were the third seed by virtue of losing the tiebreakers with the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. Let’s take a look back at the season and also what lies ahead for the Saints.
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What Went Right
The Saints went into the season as one of the favorites to come out of the NFC. They held up their end of the bargain going 13-3 and easily winning the NFC South. Things could’ve gotten derailed early on. In the second game of the season against the Los Angeles Rams, Drew Brees went down with a thumb injury. Enter Teddy Bridgewater. Although the Saints would lose to the Rams 27-9, Bridgewater would start the next five games and lead New Orleans to a 5-0 record. He played well in those five starts completing 69.7% of his passes for 1,205 yards and a 9/2 TD/INT rate.
Michael Thomas put his stamp in the record books this season with 149 catches, breaking Marvin Harrison‘s record of 143. He also led the league with 1,725 yards receiving. @Cantguardmike has established himself as arguably the best WR in the league. Cameron Jordan continued to show that he is a premier defensive end in the league. He set a career high with 15.5 sacks. This was his third year in a row with at least 12 and also his fifth year in a row with at least 15 TFL and 20 QB hits. Jordan has also never missed a game in his nine-year career.
What Went Wrong
When you’re 13-3 there isn’t much to complain about, but the defense wasn’t great this season outside of Cam Jordan and Demario Davis. The run defense was adequate, but the pass D was in the bottom half of the league. They allowed nearly 3,868 yards passing and 27 TDs through the air. Penalties also hurt a bit this season. The Saints committed 120 for over 1,000 yards while their opponents only committed 92 for 713.
Outlook for the Offseason
The Saints have a major decision to make at quarterback. Does Drew Brees come back? Do they sign Teddy Bridgewater long-term? They likely will not do both. According to Spotrac.com, the Saints should have about $12 million dollars to work with. Of course, there will be cuts, and GM Mickey Loomis is a wizard when it comes to making the money work. He also can’t perform miracles. Getting both Brees and Bridgewater back would take too much away from the ability to address other needs, and Teddy would presumably like to start whether it’s NOLA or elsewhere.
Alvin Kamara is also looking at a contract year. The Saints could very well trade him now and draft another RB. Latavius Murray is signed for the next three years as the inside rusher. If Sean Payton can find another diamond in the rough like Kamara in this year’s draft, the Saints could move Kamara for some decent draft capital as they did with Brandin Cooks in his final year. That Cooks move netted them one of the best right tackles in the game in Ryan Ramczyk.
The Team’s Free Agents
The Saints currently don’t have a QB at all when you consider that along with the aforementioned Brees and Bridgewater, Taysom Hill is also a free agent. Hill should be re-signed and likely won’t cost much, and he has good value the way Payton uses him. He is not the answer at QB and either Brees or Bridgewater has to be brought back.
Vonn Bell, a second-round pick in 2016, should be one of the offseason priorities for the Saints. Bell had a career year with 86 tackles. He also had 1.5 sacks, an INT, two FFs, and five FRs. He is a versatile safety who can be deployed in all different situations as evidenced by his 100% snap count when healthy. According to Pro Football Focus, he isn’t listed as a top 50 free agent (64). This means that the Saints could get him to return for a workable salary.
David Onyemata has been a rock in the middle of the Saints’ defensive line for four years since being taken in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He has missed only one game (week one 2019, suspended) in that time. He had 32 tackles and three sacks along with 11 QB hits. He is very good when he starts and also has great value in the defensive tackle rotation with Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown.
A.J. Klein stepped up this season when Alex Anzalone was lost for the year. Klein had 67 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks. His 45 solo tackles were a career-high. He will still be only 29 in July and is worth locking up for a three-year deal. Aside from Davis, Klein is the second-best linebacker on the team. They likely won’t re-sign Manti Te’o and may cut Kiko Alonso who is due $6.4 million this year which makes the re-signing of Klein that much more important.
Open Market Free Agents
One of the Saints’ biggest needs is finding a second WR. While they probably won’t be in on high-priced guys like A.J. Green or Amari Cooper, they could surely bring in a solid veteran. Breshad Perriman, Robby Anderson, and Geronimo Allison could be a few guys that the Saints look at. Another need is some offensive line help. Andrus Peat is a free agent and has been hurt and underperformed the past couple of years. Sean Payton has always been big on the offensive line especially when it comes to protecting Brees. After WR, an interior offensive lineman will be the next issue to address although it will probably be through the draft.
Projecting the NFL Draft
1st Round (#24) – A dream scenario here would be to grab Justin Jefferson. He played his college ball at LSU and had a great season for the Tigers catching 111 passes and racking up 1,540 yards with 18 TDs. Jefferson has good size at 6’3 and 192 lbs. As previously stated, a second WR is a major priority for the Saints. Other possibilities for the Saints at #24 are Henry Ruggs III and Laviska Shenault Jr.
3rd Round (#88) – If the Saints go with a guard here they could be looking at someone like Logan Stenberg. He’s a massive guy at 6’7 and 322 lbs. He profiles as the third interior lineman in the draft. Stenberg was a beast blowing holes for Benny Snell in 2018 at Kentucky. If the Saints can land a monster in the middle of the O-line, it could go a long way to re-establishing the running attack with Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara, not to mention keeping either Brees or Bridgewater clean.
The expectation hasn’t changed in the last three years. Super Bowl or bust. If the Saints bring Brees back for another run, they will need to hit again in the draft and/or have Loomis work his salary cap magic. They are without a second-round pick so it wouldn’t be a total shock to see them move Kamara for some draft capital. Either way, the Saints have some decisions to make as the regular season hasn’t been a problem. They just need to get it done in the playoffs…and hopefully, stay away from the Vikings.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images