This offseason the Saints lost superstar players in Terron Armstead and Marcus Williams, watched defensive leader Malcolm Jenkins retire, and failed to acquire controversial franchise quarterback Deshaun Waston — despite being touted as the frontrunners in those trade sweepstakes for a time.
Before the trade with the Philadelphia Eagles that landed the Saints an additional first round pick in this year’s draft, the team’s offseason was full of lower level acquisitions.
Prior to the NFL Draft the Saints added the following: safety Justin Evans, safety Marcus Maye, defensive end Taco Charlton, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, quarterback Andy Dalton, safety Daniel Sorensen, and defensive tackle Kentavius Street.
With the exception of Maye, who is higher profile, this list is full of flyers on backup role players who may or may not make the team. When you consider the loss of key players combined with those additions, it’s easy to understand why many Saints fans felt the team was headed in the wrong direction in terms of roster talent.
Fortunately, the Saints fared well in the draft, landing both wide receiver Chris Olave and offensive tackle Trevor Penning in the first round to patch up two glaring holes on the roster.
While those picks were both critical, there is a lot riding on both and the Saints were still putting a lot of trust in these two players making an impact in order for them to have a successful season. Little did many of us realize, the roster building process would really take full shape after the draft.
Since the draft has ended, New Orleans has added a significant amount of firepower to their team in former LSU stars Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry. These two players are clearly the prized names of the 2022 free agent Saints class, along with Maye.
The development is somewhat surprising in the sense that both former LSU players still being available this deep into free agency was a longshot. The Saints may not be done yet, too, as they visited with veteran running back Sony Michel before passing to sign him due to a failed physical. That remains a position they could bolster.
The big takeaway is that the Saints are taking advantage of a historically potent post draft free agent market.
Now, the Saints boast a safety and wide receiver position group that is outstanding. That is remarkable when you consider that they lost both Pro Bowl level starting safeties from last year, and their top three receivers in 2021 were Marquez Callaway, Tre’Quan Smith, and Deonte Harris (now Harty). Those three receivers remain with the team but are now slotted at 4, 5 and 6 on the depth chart behind Michael Thomas, Olave and Landry.
Now, this team’s depth feels exceptional and the holes on the roster are much more difficult to find. It’s possible the Saints could still look to add at tight end, running back, interior offensive line, or linebacker, but overall this team is loaded with talent at each position group and they seem set up to absorb an injury anywhere.
And the biggest move, that so little are talking about at this point, is moving Taysom Hill to tight end. Perhaps this will be one of the bigger offensive jolts, more so than new additions. This is a position that has struggled to produce for years for the Saints and if this full time commitment takes, Hill has the potential to be a gamechanger.
Ultimately between Kamara, Hill, Landry, Thomas and Olave, Jameis Winston is set up for success in a way he did not remotely enjoy a year ago. And he should continue to see high level play on the other side of the ball as well.
As we’ve watched star talent like Russell Wilson, Devante Adams, Matt Ryan, Von Miller and Amari Cooper all bolt to the AFC, it’s clear the NFC has been weakened. Based on the offseason the Saints have had, they appear clearly poised to compete for a spot in the playoffs and why not beyond?
It took longer to take shape than we maybe expected, but once again Mickey Loomis turned in a remarkable offseason to keep his team competitive while dealing with a $70 million cap deficit at the start.
Andrew Juge is the co-host of “The Saints Happy Hour Podcast.”