By: Lucas Kochevar
The New Orleans Saints are a team entering a crucial year in their franchise's history. It'll be the first time they will start with out QB Drew Brees in over a decade. Brees was the most accomplished Saints player to ever put on the uniform. The biggest challenge this off-season, however, was the cap. The Saints have been ducking and dodging the salary cap for several years now. This year, it seemed to catch-up with them. They had to make many tough decisions with free agents and they had to restructure a dozen players' contracts. They managed to do it but, it costs them some good players.
The Saints will look vastly different without number nine under center but, they look to survive with the in-house options they currently have on the roster. Jameis Winston is coming into his second year with the Saints and Taysom Hill has been an important offensive chess piece for HC Sean Payton. These two have been battling it out over camp and it's hard to get a pulse on who might win the battle. On one hand, Hill played in Brees' place last season when he was hurt. Hill was effective and put the Saints in the position to be in the playoffs. On the other hand, Winston has much more experience playing QB at the NFL level. Winston would be the clear choice if it wasn't for Payton's weird love affair with Hill. Winston is getting a ton of buzz after a spirited performance Monday night against the Jaguars. He looked comfortable and ready. This doesn't mean the end for Hill but, I would imagine he has an uphill battle for QB1.
As for the rest of the Saints offense, they bring back many of their starters. They still have a solid group on the O-Line with OTs Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. They did lose some solid weapons in the passing attack with WR Emmanuel Sanders and TE Jared Cook. They cut Cook for cap reasons. The veteren TE will be missed as he was a great security blanket as standout WR Michael Thomas missed most of last season. The Saints TEs will be a position to monitor as TEs Adam Trautman and Nick Vannett both went down with preseason injuries. Thomas will also be missed at the beginning of the year. The Thomas situation was weird because the star WR seemed to not trust the team doctors and wanted to go outside of the team for his rehab. Thomas is a weird diva, like most receivers around the league. Luckily for them, they seemed to figured out the issues but, only time will tell. Lastly, Alvin Kamara is coming back off of the best year of his career. As a Falcons fan, I hate the Saints with all my heart but, I can concede the fact that Kamara is a top three RB in the league. He will be the engine of this team and whichever QB finds themselves starting will need to rely on the star RB.
I think the offense will be an above average unit because Sean Payton is very talented at keeping that side of the ball relevant. The struggles will likely come with the defense. The defense has been, typically, reliable for the past couple of seasons as they hit on late draft picks made by GM Mickey Loomis. The difference, in my eyes, is that they won't pack the same punch like they have in years past. DE Cameron Jordan is coming up on the later years of his career. They lost DE Trey Hendrickson to the Bengals and DT Sheldon Rankins to the Jets. Those are three very vital players to the Saints success on the D-Line. The Saints first round pick was a DE from Houston, Payton Turner. This pick was an aggressive reach for a player. He was slotted at around the third round and New Orleans took him at 28th. The Saints LB core will rely heavily on leader Demario Davis. The secondary is the same group that they have had with Marshon Lattimore as the lead CB. Lattimore has some personal trouble with the law. He was arrested and charged in Ohio so his future could be a bit foggy. Overall, this group has names and can be solid. The issue I'm having is the consistency. I think this defense will hit a ceiling at some point in the season and that will be the issue with this team.
Through all my hatred for this team, I can say that they have been impressive in their successes over the years. I see the Saints run as division winners coming to an end. I see them as a team that will hover around .500 but, I cannot see them sniffing the playoffs. They would have to leapfrog over multiple teams, that I believe are better, in order to grab a wild card spot. Simply put, I do not see that happening. Winston was never able to find a winning style of football in Tampa Bay as the starter. Hill won games but, I think defenses weren't exactly sure what the Saints would look like. Now they have film and Hill is not an established QB in the league. The defense should be average for the league standard and that won't be able to carry this team, especially if Hill or Winston fail. This franchise will be truly tested this year and will face some adversity without the future Hall of Famer calling the shots on offense.