The Saints have a plan at quarterback, probably even a few, but Mickey Loomis wasn’t ready to tip his hand.
He said that it might be hard to land a Day 1 starter with the 18th pick and said he thinks the cost might be too high to move up in the draft. Trading for someone is always on the table, but the general manager noted that he hasn’t heard of any available players. On Jameis Winston, Loomis said the QB remains an option for the Saints and hopes that the Saints are an option for him.
Handicapping how this situation will play out is difficult because all it takes is one variable to knock everything out of alignment. Winston is expected to have multiple suitors in free agency, according to a source. However, the quarterback did enjoy his two seasons here and would be open to returning under the right circumstances.
If the Saints are comfortable with Winston’s rehabilitation from ACL surgery, and all evidence suggests his recovery is going extremely well, the real hurdle will be figuring out the money and how the contract works. The market might be needed to dictate all of that, and Winston’s camp probably has a good understanding of how things might look after this week’s combine.
Judging from Loomis’ comments, the Saints would welcome Winston back, but they’d be comfortable with other options as well, like Teddy Bridgewater. And even though Loomis downplayed the possibility, New Orleans could very easily draft a quarterback or move up for one, but will almost certainly sign a quarterback either way since it believes it is ready to compete now.
FREE AGENT OUTLOOK: New Orleans is in a better financial position than a year ago, but that doesn’t mean the team will continue to approach things the same way, and it seems possible the team will operate with restraint this offseason.
Nothing the Saints do has to be dictated by money, though they likely won’t make a push to pay any of their players – or anyone else’s players — at the top of the market. That could mean that some one like Marcus Williams could find a richer offer on the open market than he’ll get from the Saints.
Same goes for Terron Armstead. If he goes out and finds a deal that is willing to pay him $20 million or more per year — and this is just a guess — the Saints might be comfortable letting him walk and exploring other options, including internal ones like James Hurst, at left tackle.
There aren’t a ton of players the Saints need to bring back. Losing Williams and Armstead would create holes that need to be plugged, but most everyone else on the free agent list is somewhat optional. The Saints are a better team if they keep guys like Kwon Alexander and P.J. Williams, but there is a limit to how far the team should go and many of those players can get replaced with cheaper, albeit less talented, depth.
TOP PRIORITIES: Loomis spoke to the media on Thursday, and, as usual, he played his cards close to his chest. He didn’t reveal too many specifics about the team’s upcoming plans, but he couldn’t hide his intentions at wide receiver.
“You know, Tre’Quan (Smith is) a free agent, and (Deonte Harty) is an RFA,” Loomis said. “So, we’ve got some work to do. We got room.”
The general manager also mentioned wide receiver as one of this draft’s strengths. And he also pointed out how things have changed at this position over the last few years. It used to be that it took rookie receivers a few years to really get going, but that trend has shifted dramatically.
“Look, I remember – and this is maybe 10, 12 years ago – the studies were always that it took the receivers three years to get acclimated and really get their feet on the ground and have success,” Loomis said. “Recently, that trend has changed. And we’ve had guys come in right away as rookies and have significant success. I think that’s probably a reflection of the passing game in college and these guys being well-coached.”
All signs continue to be extremely positive for Michael Thomas. People around the wide receiver say he’s bought in and in a good head space after two difficult seasons, which means the most significant piece of the puzzle is in place. But the Saints will likely look to add at least a couple of players at this position this offseason.
Frankly, there is no more important position for this team after quarterback than wide receiver. Adding one might not be enough. New Orleans very easily could double-dip at this position.
BURNS A BIG ADDITION: New Orleans went outside its usual network to add Kodi Burns to the coaching staff, but the coach came with rave reviews.
The Saints don’t have their scouts only watch players. They ask them to get information on coaches and have them share that with the staff, and Burns is someone whose name came up repeatedly as a young and bright mind.
New Orleans expects him to bring a fresh perspective to the coaching staff and share insights and things that can help with the weekly game plans.
CAP SPACE: Don’t stress about cap space. New Orleans will open up all the space it needs and find ways to create more if the right opportunities present themselves this offseason.
But I’m not expecting the Saints to be extremely aggressive during free agency. They’ll shop and fill holes and will jump on the right opportunities, but I don’t get the sense that the team will be out there spending recklessly. Loomis said he doesn’t expect to be active on the first three days of free agency, but that is a little hard to take at face value. I could see the team invest a bit at safety if Williams walks, but the expectation is that most of the moves will be on the more reasonable end.
Of course, if the right opportunity presents, the Saints could change course and jump on it. But it seems more likely that the team will be aware of its spending and how each dollar impacts the future. Getting the cap in better order wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Even with internal decisions, it’s doubtful something like Armstead’s $12.9 million dead-money hit would be the deciding factor in how to move forward.