Every team has the chance to be the best, but to do so, it’s about looking complete. The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers should be favorites entering 2020 fresh off their Super Bowl LIV appearances. The Baltimore Ravens offseason overhaul could lead to a future Lombardi. Even the Dallas Cowboys recent finds make them a competitor for the upcoming season. Sadly, none of them should be the favorite as training camp begins. Instead, fans and spectators should head down to the Bayou and catch a glimpse of the New Orleans Saints — the NFL’s most complete roster.
One year after an early exit from the playoffs, Sean Payton is going all-in. Understanding the flaws and fixing the salary cap, the Saints dove deep into free agency to add pieces on a Super Bowl run. And with Drew Brees inching closer to Canton, New Orleans can finally call themselves that “C” word every roster hopes to be labeled as every year.
Are the New Orleans Saints the NFL’s most complete roster?
New faces, same goal
The ultimate goal for any roster is to bring home the Lombardi Trophy back to the city they call their own. New Orleans’ recent losses could be viewed as a downfall this offseason. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 as the team’s starter and immediately took a $63 million contract to become the face of the Carolina Panthers this offseason.
Payton and GM Mickey Loomis understand the importance of the backup quarterback role in today’s NFL. While the Dallas Cowboys played it smart by signing veteran game-manager Andy Dalton, New Orleans went swinging for the fences by bringing in the “30-30” sensation, Jameis Winston.
Winston, who started the last five seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards in 2019. He also became the first quarterback in history to throw for 30-plus touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a single season; hence the ESPN documentary nickname.
Losing 17 pounds and undergoing Lasik eye surgery, Winston is not set on staying a backup long, entering the year on a “prove-it” $1.1 million deal signed earlier this year.
“I’m 26,” Winston said in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Tyler Dunne. “There’s people talking about me like I’m an old washed-up quarterback. Like I’m 40 years old! I’ve got so much life. I’ve got so much energy.
“This is not over for me.”
The quarterback room has improved this offseason and is one of the top rooms in the NFL. Brees, 40 years old and still playing his best ball, can continue his MVP-level magic for another season. Winston, while erratic, has the arm power and experience to lead a team to victory. Compare that to other QB rooms around the league — which are you taking over this group?
The signing of Winston only solidifies the offense that finished top 10 in total offense and second in passing scores. Winston’s ability to drive down the field could be unique, but limiting the turnovers will only work in his and the Saints’ favor. Brees, who has yet to throw more than eight interceptions per year since 2017, should help fix the problems with the former No.1’s mechanics.
A quarterback is only as good as his arsenal. Even with Michael Thomas taking over as the league’s new public enemy No.1, every hero needs a sidekick. It’s a role that Emmanuel Sanders has played for years, but now will be implemented with a future Hall of Famer under center.
Sanders signed a two-year, $16 million deal to join the Saints this offseason as the team’s new weapon. In Pittsburgh and Denver, the 33-year-old played “Robin” to Mike Wallace’s and Demaryius Thomas’ “Batman” personas. Once traded to the 49ers, San Francisco’s offense looked much improved with Sanders as the team’s top target.
Still a top route-runner with quality speed, defenses will have to prepare for Sanders in the slot. Taking the coverage away from Thomas should open the offense to expand the playbook. With defensive backs and linebackers now covering two potential top 25 targets, this should allow TreQuan Smith to blossom as the No.3 option.
Defensively, the biggest winners are Marcus Davenport, Marcus Williams, and rookie Zack Baun. Why? Simple; the team upgraded their supporting cast members. Bringing brotherly love back, Malcolm Jenkins will return to his first home while Nigel Bradham will be an exciting fit in Dennis Allen’s scheme.
Jenkins struggled as a cornerback but thrived in the safety role. Once transitioning from the outside to the top, the former Eagle would earn three Pro Bowl nods in his first four seasons at the position. A veteran with the ability to play four different roles in the secondary, Jenkins’ addition stabilizes functions for young talent.
“He obviously comes in and gave us that leadership role already,” Williams said earlier this week. “So it’s been good working with him right now and just look forward to continue working with him.”
Transforming into a quality run-stopper, Jenkins should play well near the line of scrimmage. This allows Williams to focus on coverage deep as the team’s ball-hawking ranger. It also allows second-year defensive back Ceedy Duce (formerly known as C.J. Gardner-Johnson) to remain the slot, an area PFN’s Matt Williamson believes he will thrive in as a big-bodied option.
The 11th ranked passing defense should feel more secure with Jenkins taking control over Vonn Bell. In the front seven, DeMario Davis will need a real running mate as Kiko Alonso and Alex Anzalone have proven to be injury-ridden.
Enter Bradham, a defender who mixes consistent coverage and quality tackling who can play either linebacker role.
Bradham won’t be limited to sub-packages that involve blitzing or playing physical against the tight end. Instead, he can implement his functions in various ways that allow him to win at the point. Despite diminishing near the line of scrimmage, Bradham tallied at least 60-plus tackles and three quarterback hits in three of Philadelphia’s four seasons.
At 30, his skills are best used in coverage, providing insurance to Anzalone and an upgrade over Alonso. A pairing with Jenkins could ensure immense success in a division that features several teams with top targets and developing tight end play.
In troubling times, teams will be prepping for a season with little camp and prep time. For the Saints, there’s a veteran core that’s ready to strike. Ranking as the eighth-oldest roster entering 2020, the team is a home-grown talent that has been in the system for years with minor changes.
The offensive line that allowed the fourth-fewest sacks (25) will return four starters and an established rookie in Cesar Ruiz to replace Larry Wafford. Ryan Ramczyk is the top right tackle in football and has played an instrumental role in running back Alvin Kamara’s development. The fourth-year rusher will be entering a contract year but could return to top-five form with running mate Latavius Murray lessening his workload.
Defensively, Davenport is coming off a career-high in tackles and sacks. A healthy Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata add leverage to the interior opposite of superstar Cameron Jordan. Davis is one of the most well-rounded linebackers, while Janoris Jenkins is a cheap veteran signing that impressed in the team’s final two games last year.
When they come marching in
The Saints are a team that understands the playbook, but more importantly, the staff. There’s a trust factor that’s been built over the years that few nuclei have on other rosters. Add in veteran talent with pedigrees of leadership that only stabilizes them more.
Everywhere you look on the Saints, a top-10 unit awaits. Passing, running, protection and coverage; all areas New Orleans has improved but were already nearing perfection. Could other teams be better in areas? Sure, but you can’t find a massive flaw anywhere in Payton’s system as you can elsewhere.
With contracts looming and decisions to be made, this could be the final hoorah for New Orleans to be a contender. They say new is always better. Instead, think of New Orleans like a bottle of wine; only finer with age.
That cork is ready to pop in 2020, so be prepared to watch the Saints come marching into Tampa Bay in February 2021.