The New Orleans Saints might have a left tackle problem.
With rookie offensive tackle Trevor Penning undergoing surgery to deal with a bad case of turf toe and veteran swing tackle James Hurst dealing with a foot injury of his own, the Saints’ offensive line is facing a big hole at its most important position.
For the last several years, the Saints have had the luxury of enjoying a high level of play from their left tackle position. Terron Armstead had started to establish himself as one of the best left tackles in the NFL over the last four years especially with three Pro Bowl nods and a second-team All-Pro selection in 2018. Though Armstead occasionally had trouble staying on the field due to a variety of injuries, for the most part, the Saints didn’t have to worry about that position.
Once Armstead left for Miami in free agency, the Saints had to find someone to replace him as their left tackle of the future. When the 2022 NFL Draft rolled around, that’s what they did. New Orleans selected Penning, a tackle with high upside as a run-blocker, out of Northern Iowa with the 19th overall pick. Even with his first-rounder status, Penning wasn’t a lock for the starting left tackle spot with Hurst still on the roster, but the Saints’ vision of Penning eventually developing into the starting role was apparent.
Flash forward to training camp and Penning’s NFL career was not off to a hot start. Just about a week into camp, the Saints coaching staff kicked the rookie out of practice for getting involved in his third physical altercation in three days with his teammates. Penning had been known for his violent demeanor and aggressive play through the whistle in college, but doing it to the point of irritating his teammates on the defensive side of the ball wasn’t going to slide. Having it happen so early in camp too did not reflect well on Penning, especially as he battled Hurst for the starting job.
To make things worse, the rookie did not get off to a good start in preseason action. He struggled a bit in his debut against a Texans pass-rush that hasn’t been known for their recent success. Though his second game was better, NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal reported that Penning seemed to have lost the battle for the starting job based on the Saints’ usage of him in the preseason.
And if things weren’t bad enough for Penning already after his second preseason game, they got worse in his preseason finale. After looking much better even in just the two weeks since his NFL debut, the rookie tackle left Friday night’s game early with “a bad case of turf toe” that required surgery. For now, he’s out indefinitely.
While Hurst is expected to make a return from his foot injury soon, the sudden lack of depth at left tackle should be concerning for the Saints. Turf toe is a serious injury by itself, and having a “bad case” of it like Penning has could set him up to miss weeks if not months of his rookie season. If Hurst struggles or re-injures himself early in the season, there isn’t anyone on the depth chart to step up and replace him.
What makes the lack of depth a little more concerning is the context of how important left tackle is on the offensive line as well as who New Orleans has at quarterback. Jameis Winston finally returned to NFL action Friday night after missing most of last season with a torn ACL, so keeping him upright and protected on his blind side is even more important for the Saints, who obviously don’t want to risk another Winston injury.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as swapping another offensive lineman to left tackle at a moment’s notice. Instead, the Saints may look to sign a free agent tackle or make a trade to give themselves more depth. Eric Fisher, Daryl Williams, and Nate Solder are some of the free agent tackles still available. The New England Patriots’ Isaiah Wynn, the Las Vegas Raiders’ Alex Leatherwood, and the Chicago Bears’ Teven Jenkins are guys that could be trade targets, though Jenkins has played well at right guard recently.
There’s no immediate need for the Saints to find a new left tackle, but they would be wise to be looking for more depth ahead of the regular season. Once more roster cuts are announced before Tuesday’s 53-man deadline, more options might be available. Don’t be surprised if New Orleans makes a move in the next week or two to give themselves a safety net behind Hurst.
- Oct 06, 2022
- Oct 06, 2022