With quarterback now settled, here’s a look at the rest of the offseason decisions the team needs to make and how they could play out.
THE DEPTH CHART: Before we get started, a look at the depth chart ahead of free agency.
Jameis Winston (likely released)
Mike Thomas (maybe)
Marquez Callaway (RFA)
Juwan Johnson (RFA)
Malcolm Roach (RFA)
Albert Huggins (RFA)
Chase Hansen (RFA)
Andrew Dowell (RFA)
Blake Gillikin (RFA)
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Jarvis Landry, WR Deonte Harty, QB Andy Dalton, CB Chris Harris, RB Mark Ingram, RB Dwayne Washington, S Daniel Sorensen, S P.J. Williams, RB David Johnson, S Justin Evans, CB Isaac Yiadom, S J.T. Gray, LB Kaden Elliss, LB Ty Summers, DT Kentavius Street, DE Marcus Davenport, DT David Onyemata, DT Shy Tuttle.
AND THE RESTRICTED GUYS: WR Marquez Callaway, P Blake Gillikin, LB Chase Hansen, LB Andrew Dowell, TE Juwan Johnson, DT Albert Huggins, DL Malcolm Roach
Johnson and Gillikin seem like easy keeps.
FINISH CREATING CAP SPACE: One of the more fascinating things to watch is how New Orleans creates the rest of its cap space.
The Saints can easily restructure the base salaries of Cam Jordan ($13.9 million), Marshon Lattimore ($14.5 million), Andrus Peat ($11.825 million) and Alvin Kamara ($9.4 million) to create some flexibility. Still, the team might not want to touch some of those contracts.
One potential problem is that Kamara could get suspended, which means that his salary won’t count against the cap for the games he is unavailable. So, restructuring it might not make sense if there are other ways to get under the cap. But if you avoid Kamara’s deal, that might lead New Orleans into touching a contract it doesn’t want to touch.
The Saints look at things slightly differently, so the idea of a “clean out” might not matter much, but if New Orleans leaves Lattimore’s contract alone, it could escape that contract and come out about even if needed after the 2024 season. That could be something to keep in mind after a slightly weird 2022 season.
Jordan’s age and Peat’s inconsistencies explain why the team might not want to push their money down the road.
BRING BACK DALTON: Weird place to start, yeah, but this is a big deal. Backup QBs matter. The Saints should try to sell Andy Dalton on stability. Sell him on raising his kids here and not having to bounce around.
He’s a good backup and could stick around here for a while. If he gets away, the team should look to find another strong backup. There have been too many injuries at that position in recent years to take it lightly.
GET SOME DEFENSIVE TACKLES AND PASS RUSH: If there is one reason to doubt this team’s ability next season it is the current depth charts at defensive tackle and defensive end.
What happens if Cam Jordan gets hurt or starts to show some age? Who is getting after the quarterback? There might not be another player on the team who can win a one-on-one and get after the quarterback consistently. The Saints were really high on what Carl Granderson did last season, but he still only finished with 5 ½ sacks. We’ll need to see much more before feeling confident about what’s on the team. Payton Turner needs to step up in a hurry.
And at defensive tackle, the team couldn’t field a roster today. New Orleans should bring back everyone it can at that spot – Malcolm Roach, Shy Tuttle, David Onyemata – while looking for other options. Finding someone who can rush the passer from this spot and a nose tackle who can stuff the run should be priorities.
KEEP ONYEMATA: The Saints might be able to keep the interior pass rusher at a price of around $7.5 or $8 million per season. A shorter deal makes sense, but keeping this hole open could be dangerous.
LET DAVENPORT SHOP: Marcus Davenport might be the Saints’ most-talented defensive player. The problem is, you never know when he’s going to show up and play his best.
The pass rusher was out of shape to start camp last year after having offseason surgery and never really settled in the way he was supposed to settle in. That led to him finishing the season with ½ sack after having nine in 11 games the year before.
How do you place a value on a player with such extreme variances?
You probably don’t. That’s why the Saints should let Davenport test the market and ask him for the ability to match any deal. Let him walk if someone wants to pay him a ton of money. The risk is too high to make an expensive bet.
MAKE DECISIONS ON OTHER PROMINENT FREE AGENTS: The Saints have to figure out who to bring back next season, with Jarvis Landry and Mark Ingram serving as two of the more prominent free agents on the offensive side of the ball.
A lot didn’t go right with Landry last season, and his decision to come here was tied to playing with Jameis Winston. And when that went sideways, it felt like things went sideways for Landry, too. But maybe things would work out differently playing alongside Carr, and he’d be reinvested and reinvigorated by the new circumstances.
Ingram, meanwhile, is a significant locker-room presence and can still help a team, but he’d have to come back as the third option on the depth chart. The Saints have to get better at this position.
Defensively, Kaden Elliss, P.J. Williams and Daniel Sorensen are the big names who could exit this offseason. Williams and Sorensen should be relatively easy re-signs, and the Saints should consider bringing both players back.
WHAT ABOUT ELLISS? Elliss is a little trickier. The Saints want him back and know what he can do, but they won’t overinvest in the position. Demario Davis and Pete Werner will be the starting linebackers, which makes Elliss somewhat of a luxury.
If he continues to develop and progress, he could eventually be a starting-caliber player for this defense, but New Orleans will be careful about how it uses its available cap space. Elliss probably only comes back at the right price, and we’ll see how that goes. He recently parted ways with his agent ahead of free agency.
The thing is, Elliss can probably be brought back on a fairly cheap deal. There are a lot of linebackers on the open market, and he doesn’t have extensive proven production.
If Elliss doesn’t want to settle for the Saints’ price early, then let him shop and keep in touch so you can match the offers. The two risks here are that he finds a starting job somewhere or that a 3-4 team sees him as an edge player and pays for his pass-rush ability.
But if not, he might not cost that much. Only 20 linebackers currently make more than $5 million per season.
SOLVE RUNNING BACK: The Saints should go into this offseason like they don’t have anyone on the depth chart at running back. Alvin Kamara will likely get suspended, but he should be back soon. Still, now is the time for the team to invest significantly in the position.
Getting another talented player at this spot would allow Kamara to shift back into a role that suits his abilities and allow New Orleans to start a succession plan of sorts at the spot. Kamara isn’t done being effective, but the team is at its best when it has a solid 1-2 punch at the position. Getting a younger player in the fold would sort of reposition the depth chart to operate as it did in 2017 when Kamara and Ingram were both playing at elite levels.
So, what type of back should the Saints get? Someone who can make some plays between the tackles would be the best bet. Even with Carr on the roster and what should be a revamped passing game, being effective running the ball and having some convincing play-action looks would go a long way toward making the offense more effective.
TRY TO KEEP MICHAEL THOMAS: If the Saints can find the right deal, there is no harm in giving Michael Thomas another chance to get healthy here. What does the team have to lose other than a few dollars?
Thomas looked good last year before getting hurt again, and he remains the most competitive person on the planet. You can’t ever count him out.
So, what gets it done? Something with a low base that takes care of Thomas with performance incentives could get it done if he plays and performs. But what does that look like? Is it $6 million with the upside of $12-15? Is it a higher base number, like around $10 million? That’s going to be the challenge of figuring this deal out.
The Saints could let it get to the market, but then it wouldn’t have the benefit of reworking Thomas’ deal before the dead money kicks in on his deal.
BUT BACK THOMAS UP: Even if the Saints keep Thomas, they need to be practical about the situation and ensure that there is another possession-type player on the roster, whether that’s a receiver or tight end. And if that player just adds to what a healthy Thomas is doing, all the better.
Carr has had issues in the red zone throughout his career. Making life easier for him down there wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Overall, there’s room for the team to keep adding at wide receiver. Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed should have a lot of production playing with Carr, especially since the quarterback can sling it, but finding guys who can challenge Tre’Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway, if he gets brought back, would be a good thing.
CALL AND SEE IF HUNTER RENFROW IS AVAILABLE: Have you watched Carr and Hunter Renfrow play together? Their connection was off the charts in 2021 before the Raiders’ offense started operating differently last year. No idea if he’s available, but I’d find out.
DEVELOP A GOOD TAYSOM PLAN: The Saints figured some things out with Taysom Hill late last season, and those things, such as some of the wildcat plays, should become staples of the offense. New Orleans should back off of the idea of making Hill a full-blown tight end, and just let him be a guy who runs the ball well and makes plays out of the backfield as a primary option.
Once the team knows what Hill is doing, it can start filling in the gaps and know exactly where everything fits. What this would mean is the team needs to get some more tight ends. The ship is sailing on Adam Trautman’s potential as a receiver, so getting someone who can make plays alongside Juwan Johnson, who should get tendered, could be good.
AND HAVE AN IDENTITY IN GENERAL: One thing that might really help the offense is that Carr can do many things that Drew Brees used to do in this offense, just maybe not at Brees’ level. But the DNA should be mostly the same, and that might help the offense find its groove since it can lean on what it knows instead of trying to create something for a different type of quarterback.
RELEASE WINSTON: We all know it’s coming, unfortunately. Let Jameis Winston go and find a situation where he can compete to be the starter.
FIGURE OUT THE SLOT: For my money, the team’s best arraignment of cornerbacks would be Marshon Lattimore and Alontae Taylor on the outside with Bradley Roby in the slot. Taylor has been too good to take off the field and, it was surprising that Paulson Adebo played ahead of him down the stretch.
But it might make sense to start training Taylor in the slot so there are options if Roby takes a step back or Adebo gets on the other side of his inconsistencies and deserves playing time. There was some talk about Adebo playing inside late last season, but from this point of view, he doesn’t have the profile that projects well to the inside.
GET ANOTHER SAFETY: Speaking of suspensions, Marcus Maye has a few outstanding court issues that could lead to some downtime. But even if not, the team is thin at the position. Bringing back P.J. Williams is a must. Getting a little bit of youth on the depth chart isn’t a bad thing, either.
Mathieu played well last season and should be expected to exceed those expectations during his second season here, but it’s never too early to start looking for a succession plan.