The New Orleans Saints 2018 season ended in more pain than arguably any other team. After a 13-3 regular season, they went to the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams and were at the center of one of the biggest controversies in recent memory. A referee’s non-call on a blatant pass interference gave the Rams life where there was none, and the Rams took advantage with a win in overtime.
You could argue that the Saints were a Super Bowl caliber team in 2018. Led by quarterback Drew Brees, they produced one of the most dominant offenses in the National Football League with the third most points scored and 8th most yards gained.
Though the offense was great, the defense wasn’t far behind finishing 14th in both points and yards allowed. The Saints got pressure on opposing quarterbacks all year tying for fifth in sacks and forced the fourth most fumbles in the league. The defense played well enough to be a considered a championship caliber defense.
The Saints are in a Super Bowl window that is as tight as it gets. With Brees entering next season at the age of 40 the win-now mentality has never been stronger. This offseason is paramount to finishing Brees’ career with another Super Bowl.
Key Free Agents
There are not many big name free agents to be for the Saints in 2019. The biggest one is running back Mark Ingram. Ingram has been the hammer to Alvin Kamara’s nail over the last two seasons, but after serving a four-game suspension to start 2018 for PEDs, Ingram played second fiddle to the rising star. As the other part of a committee, Ingram sported an excellent 4.7 yards per carry, gathered over 800 yards from scrimmage, and scored seven total touchdowns in 12 games. He has been an essential part of the team as Kamara’s running mate and mentor but running back is a position where production can easily be found. We will see if the two sides can come to an agreement as both seem interested in extending the relationship.
The other big name associated with the Saints free agency is QB Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater was brought into the Saints via trade with the Jets before this season and is likely to end his time in New Orleans to explore the open market as many teams are looking for a veteran QB. After spending his first few years in Minnesota, Bridgewater had a gruesome knee injury and at age 26, he has had two years away from playing ample time as a starter. If the market for Bridgewater doesn’t materialize the way he hopes, there is a small chance he could stay in New Orleans as the backup to Brees.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant signed with the team and immediately was placed on injured reserve after an injury in his second practice. According to Bryant’s social media, he would like to stay with the Saints and will likely have to do so with a very cheap deal.
The tight end position may be a need either in free agency or the draft as Ben Watson is set to retire. Wonderboy Tayson Hill is still on the team and playing multiple roles including tight end, but more depth will need to be added as Josh Hill, and Dan Arnold combined for 28 catches and just over 300 yards last year.
The last of the more critical names is Will Lutz. The kicker is set to be gone unless the team decides that his great season warrants another contract.
Aside from these more well-known names, the Saints will also have role players such as slot corner P.J. Williams, defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, right guard Jermon Bushrod, and linebackers Manti Te’o and Craig Robertson to worry about leaving the team.
Cap space is in short supply for the Saints as they only have about 11 million dollars to work with before free agency starts. The team is expected to make a few cuts in that time as well with the headliner being backup safety Kurt Coleman, which would save 5.5 million if designated as a post-June 1st cut.
Draft and free agency needs
The primary needs going into free agency and the draft will be tight end, defensive tackle, swing offensive tackle, wide receiver, slot corner, and potentially running back if Mark Ingram isn’t re-signed. The biggest issue for the Saints is that they have very little draft capital. They possess a second round pick and no other pick before the fifth round due to trades. The big trade was moving up with the Green Bay Packers in last year’s first round to acquire Marcus Davenport. They gave up this year’s first round to do so. Because of the lack of draft picks, the Saints will likely have to focus their attention on free agency.
If I was the Saints General Manager
If I were GM Mickey Loomis, I would go into free agency with the plan of signing cheap role players to the positions of need I listed above. With little cap space and even less draft capital, the offseason should be more focused on the little things to sure up depth and hope to continue to build on last year’s success. Here is what I would look to do at a few positions of need:
The tight end position should be a target as the players on the current roster have not produced, and Brees could use another playmaker outside of the backfield. Potential cheap free agent targets include Jesse James from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft from the Cincinnati Bengals. Draft prospects Noah Fant of Iowa, Dawson Knox from Ole Miss, and Irv Smith Jr. of Alabama could all be targets with the 2nd round pick.
Defensive tackle free agents that could be brought on include Darius Philon from the Los Angeles Chargers, Jordan Phillips from the Buffalo Bills, and Danny Shelton from the New England Patriots. Potential 2nd round draft targets could include Dexter Lawrence of Clemson, Dre’Mont Jones of Ohio State, and Jerry Tillery of Notre Dame.
The wide receiver position would be helped with names like Golden Tate from the Philadelphia Eagles, Chris Conley from the Kansas City Chiefs, or Tyrell Williams from the Chargers. Draft targets would include Deebo Samuel of South Carolina, A.J. Brown of Ole Miss, or Emanuel Hall from Missouri.
If Mark Ingram does leave, I would look to sign names such as Spencer Ware from the Chiefs, T.J. Yeldon from the Jacksonville Jaguars, or Jeremy Hill of the Patriots. Running backs in the draft to look out for include Damien Harris from Alabama or Elijah Holyfield of Georgia.
This offseason is key to making the final moves necessary to win another Super Bowl in the Brees and Sean Payton era. They are not far off, and if they can push the right buttons over the next seven months, I believe they will be serious contenders to win it all next year.