While not official, Drew Brees’s Fall of Fame career ended after an NFC divisional playoff loss to the Buccaneers. The past offseason consisted of New Orleans looking to win now and restructuring contracts accordingly. Now that money is catching up to them as they not only have negative cap space but negative $65 million in cap space. Roster needs must be addressed through the draft or by signing cheap free agents. This Saints offseason will be trying to keep a competitive team together while being forced to cut high-value players.
Roster Needs (After Cuts): LB, WR, CB, QB, EDGE, S
After shelling out a massive contract for Alvin Kamara, New Orleans is in cap hell. The Saints offseason will begin with many cuts off significant and insignificant players to get out of the negative. Cutting Kwon Alexander, Janoris Jenkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Nick Easton, Malcolm Brown, and Latavius Murray will clear over $45 million in cap space putting them close enough to even. Restructuring current contracts will cover the rest of the negative cap space.
Drew Brees’s retirement will clear $12 million more. Quarterback is on the list because not only can they not afford to go after a new one, but Sean Payton expressed his confidence in Jameis Winston as the starter going forward. Extending Jameis to a cheap deal is likely considering the small contract he accepted when joining New Orleans. Winston will likely be the only impending free agent brought back.
After cutting Emmanuel Sanders, the Saints must find another wideout to play opposite of Michael Thomas. Tre’Quan Smith is more of a flash in the pan if anything and cannot be their number two going forward. Kenny Stills is still in his twenties and can still provide as a solid field-stretcher. In 2020, he played behind Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller before being released from the poorly managed Texans.
Willie Snead could also be brought back to New Orleans where he was at his best. Producing nearly 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016 playing second fiddle to Brandin Cooks proves his worth to the Saints. He could come in and produce immediately with Thomas receiving the attention of the opposing number one cornerback.
The large number of cuts leave gaping holes across the defense which was one of the top-ranked groups in 2020. Starting with the secondary that forced the most interceptions in the league with 18, Janoris Jenkins’s release leaves a necessity along the boundary. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is better suited in the slot, struggling when put on the outside.
A breakout year in 2020 makes Troy Hill an attractive free-agent option. Primarily working the slot for the Rams last year, Hill is at his best when guarding less physically imposing receivers. Covering those kinds of receivers is when stud corner Marshon Lattimore shines. The tandem of Lattimore and Hill can keep the stout secondary that allowed the 5th least passing yards last season.
The linebacking group will be missing Kwon Alexander’s skillset. Demario Davis is one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL being a playmaker in coverage and the run game. He even excels as a blitzer amassing 4 sacks last year. However, Davis alone cannot hold down the defense and they must acquire another tone-setter.
The draft features accomplished linebackers in Nick Bolton and Zaven Collins who will likely be available with the 28th pick. Bolton is an instinctive linebacker who can cover better than anyone while filling running lanes. Zaven Collins profiles as a hybrid linebacker at 260-pounds with freaky athleticism to drop back into coverage. He sheds blocks with ease given his power and size. Either of the two linebackers will pay immediate dividends to the Saints’ front seven.
The defensive front generated the 8th most sacks with 45 thanks to 13.5 coming from Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson will be a hot commodity in free agency after such a productive season and New Orleans will have no chance of affording the expensive deal his talent commands. 2018 first-round pick Marcus Davenport showed promise as a rotational piece along the defensive line. The departure of Hendrickson will push him towards a more prominent role where he must develop. While never accumulating more than 6 sacks in a season, Davenport possesses absurd athleticism for his size to become a premier pass-rusher. The Saints must hope he can take that next step to keep that stifling defensive front.