After Further Review: Five takes on the Saints offseason ahead

Sean Payton has a busy offseason up ahead.
Sean Payton has a busy offseason up ahead.(WVUE)
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 4:29 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Take One: Find the Franchise QB

This should be priority No. 1 for the Saints this offseason.

One season of uncertainty at the game’s most important position is more than enough. Especially when the Saints had 15 years of stability with Drew Brees.

There’s no getting around it any longer. Sean Payton has to decide, whether in the building or on the outside, who the next ‘guy’ will be that can turn them back into a contender.

In house, Jameis Winston is someone they like. The question is whether they love him enough to demonstrate a full-fledged commitment to him. He made strides in his game and went 5-2. Right when it felt like the coaches and Winston could’ve possibly taken it to another level, he was lost for the season. It’s hard to truly know where his season would’ve finished. That injury and his recovery could come into play with their future plans with Winston.

However, it would be foolish to completely discount the idea of Winston returning. If they truly believe he’s their guy, we will know it by their contract offer to him. If they go the one year route again, it would feel like another year of ‘maybe’ and not necessarily being all-in.

Taysom Hill battled through injuries and finished 4-1. He signed an extension during the season, but that contract is not set up in a way that guarantees he’s the next franchise quarterback.

Both Winston and Hill have proven they can win games. That’s undeniable, they’re a combined 12-4 with them over the last two seasons. The question is, are either capable of winning championships? That’s ultimately where the Saints need to be in their quarterback decision-making.

The fact that we can’t answer that definitively shows they’re better options. We’ve heard the names from the elite, tier one status of Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. DeShaun Watson could be available, though his legal situation may make it complicated. Every one of those players would require the Saints giving up major assets to obtain.

There’s also guys that aren’t considered of that quality, but may be considered an upgrade over what they have. There’s been speculation about Derek Carr, but Jimmy Garappolo stands out most considering his current team has a rookie first-round pick behind him. Given that, he would probably be the most readily available and may not require a huge haul in return.

There’s a reasonable debate on just how much better Jimmy G. would be over Winston. In that scenario, Payton has earned the trust of picking the right guy he believes is the one to get his offense, and his team, back to contender status.

Bottom line, there should be no question about who their franchise quarterback is heading into the 2022 season.

Take Two: Pass-catching help

Last off-season the Saints made it pretty clear, they were higher on the team’s pass-catching group than those outside the organization.

That turned out to be a miscalculation. In fairness, they said that with the belief that Michael Thomas would be back. Of course, his presence would’ve made a difference. But behind him, the team really struggled at the position. There was no true No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. Marquez Callaway may eventually develop into a solid No. 2 option, but for now, he’s more like a three. Tre’Quan Smith is in the same boat. Deonte Harris was arguably their most complete receiver until his suspension, but he’s best suited as a part-time receiver and return specialist. Losing a player of Emmanuel Sanders’ caliber proved costly.

The other miss came at tight end. The team moved on from Jared Cook and Josh Hill. Going into the season with Adam Trautman and Juwan Johnson. Neither Trautman nor Johnson were ready for their enhanced roles. Cook and Hill would have easily started and been better options for the team this season.

A strong case could be made that the Saints had one of the worst set of pass-catchers in the entire league. That has to be fixed this offseason.

Take Three: Armstead’s future

Terron Armstead is one of the NFL’s best left tackles. He’s been a true warrior, but in 2021 injuries caught up to him. Armstead missed nine games with various issues this season. His absence, combined with Ryan Ramczyk, made a huge difference on the offensive line. It’s obviously not the first time Armstead has battled injuries in his career.

There really wasn’t much buzz about an extension during the season with Armstead. This will be a tough decision. Committing top-of-the-market money to a tackle north of 30 years old with significant injuries could be risky, but that’s where his market value might be.

On the other hand, the Saints have placed an incredibly high priority on both lines of scrimmage. Armstead is an elite football player at a critical position. Those types of players aren’t so easy to replace.

Take Four: Michael Thomas

It’s funny how a narrative can slowly evolve during the course of a season. When it was announced that Thomas would miss the entire season, most felt Thomas had played his last game in Black and Gold. But as the year unfolded, it felt more and more like Thomas could be back in the mix.

There are several factors pointing to this. First and foremost, it’s what was discussed in take two. The Saints have a desperate need to upgrade their receiver position. Two, there’s a chance his trade value won’t be nearly as high coming off of two injured-riddled seasons. If the Saints were to pull off a blockbuster deal for a quarterback, Thomas could certainly be in the mix. But realistically, his value this offseason is not as high as last offseason. Third, fair or unfair, in league circles he’s not viewed as the best locker room guy. Thus, there may not be as many suitors for Thomas out there.

Thomas could absolutely be traded this offseason, that hasn’t changed. What has possibly changed is the possibility of him returning. At one point in the season, it felt like there would be no chance he’d be back, but now there’s more than enough reasons to keep him in New Orleans.

This will be interesting to watch.

Take Five: Other Observations

  • Marcus Williams will be another high-profile free agent for the Saints. His future will come down to money. If he wants top-3 money, he may be elsewhere next season. Williams has as much range as anyone in football, but after five seasons, he still struggles with tackling which led to big plays all year.
  • The contracts of Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara, and Taysom Hill are set up in a way that will allow the Saints to create cap space. There won’t be the blood-shedding this offseason that there was a last year.
  • The most underrated player on the Saints team is P.J. Williams. After three straight one-year deals, the Saints should offer him a multi-year contract. He has versatility and play-making ability. He doesn’t quite have the range as Marcus Williams, but he may be a more well-rounded player.
  • Marcus Davenport had a phenomenal season, but once again battled injuries. He’s under the fifth-year option next season, but the Saints can extend him. An extension would also give the Saints cap space. Given how much they value the edge position on defense, I could see Davenport ultimately getting a big contract this offseason.
  • Though, they won’t have many cap casualties, the Saints will still part ways with players under contract for various reasons. The one veteran in that scenario could be safety Malcolm Jenkins. He has a high cap number, and though he didn’t completely fall off a cliff in production, he showed small signs of decline as the season went on.

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