The New Orleans Saints lost more than just one game this weekend, as they fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. They lost their winning window.
For the last four years, the Saints have dug their foundation for their current regime deeper and deeper in the form of draft trades, moving big money around, and signing free agents.All in an attempt for just one more Lombardi Trophy. This year really was the last ride. With quarterback Drew Brees close to retirement, with big contracts looming over the next two years, this was their last chance to capture a Super Bowl with this core group of players.
As the Saints look back on their last four years, they’ll see four division titles, four double-digit winning seasons, and four years of being one of the best rosters that only seemed to get better each and every year. Yet they only had one NFC Championship appearance during that time, and never even made it to a Super Bowl. But that’s not to say it was a waste, or that they did the wrong thing. Winning in the NFL is hard. They gave it their all, truly going all in as an organization from top to bottom to build a potential winner, and that’s all you can ask for. The ball just never bounced their way.
We expect Brees to retire this offseason, which could leave a massive hole at quarterback, depending on how you view Taysom Hill and pending free agent Jameis Winston. They’ll also have to make some big money decisions with some of the best players: Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Sheldon Rankins, Terron Armstead, Marcus Brown, Marcus Davenport, and Ryan Ramczyk over the next two years. So they are almost $100 million over the cap right now and won’t be able to retain all of the talent in that list, let alone the other good players that fill out the depth chart.
The Saints will likely look a lot different in the next year or two, and it starts with a strong draft in 2021. Here’s what an ideal draft could look like.
Round 1 (No. 28 overall): Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
Though the Saints don’t have an immediate need at offensive tackle, they will likely have a big one (or two) a year from now. As stated previously, Armstead and Ramsczyk are free agents next offseason. They likely can’t keep both.
Leatherwood being the Saints’ first-round selection would be logical since this team has drafted a trench player with a priority pick in each of the last six years. Leatherwood also has the versatility to play as a guard (has started at right tackle, right guard, and left tackle during his college career) while Armstead and Ramsczyk are still under contract. He would honestly be the perfect fit for them to make sure there isn’t a big roster blow to their offensive line next season.
Round 2 (No. 60 overall): Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
Like offensive tackle, the Saints’ cornerback room could look a lot different in two years. They can move on from cornerback Janoris Jenkins and save money at any time, a move they might have to make with their cap situation. Plus Marshon Lattimore is a free agent next year and will command top dollar. They will likely try to hold onto Lattimore, but the cap situation might make it tough. Regardless of whether or not they need a CB1 or a CB2 in the next two years, they’ll need something.
Adebo’s former wide receiver background gives him an aggressive style of attacking the ball in the air. He has great ball skills and a nose for takeaways. He won’t be a guy you want to play in the slot, but the Saints have Chauncey Gardner-Johnson for that. If the Saints can somehow bring Lattimore back and have Adebo on the other side, that would be a strong group moving forward.
Round 3 (No. 98 overall): Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
Demario Davis has been one of the best linebackers in the NFC for a while now, but the Saints have been looking to upgrade the linebacker spot next to him. They’ve played Alex Anzalone there when they can, but his health has been a question mark for most of his career. Browning brings an athletic upside that the Saints would be willing to develop next to Davis.
Round 4 (No. 131 overall): Paris Ford, S, Pitt
One of the Saints’ more immediate defensive needs to fill likely comes at the safety position. Marcus Williams is a free agent this offseason and while Malcolm Jenkins has played well here in the latter stage of his career, he is 33 years old.
If the Saints have to say goodbye to Williams for cap reasons, they could replace him with a player like Ford. If not Ford, this safety class should have a decent amount of options in the middle rounds for New Orleans to dip into.