2019 NFL Offseason: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints (Last Year: 13-3)

2019 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Latavius Murray, TE Jared Cook, OT Marshall Newhouse, C Ryan Groy, C Nick Easton, DE Mario Edwards, DT Malcom Brown, CB Marcus Sherels.
Early Draft Picks:
C/G Erik McCoy, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Saints Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
OT Jermon Bushrod, C Max Unger, DT Tyeler Davison, ILB Manti Te’o, S Kurt Coleman.

2019 New Orleans Saints Offense:
Drew Brees told the media two offseasons ago that he plans on playing until he’s 45. If last year is any indication, he may just make it to that age while in the NFL. Brees was one missed call away from taking his team to the Super Bowl, as he threw for 32 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His yardage total wasn’t high (3,992), but that’s because the Saints boasted a good defense and were way ahead in the second halves of most of their games.

Brees turned 40 this offseason, but there hasn’t been any indication that he’s slowing down. Of course, that could happen overnight, as it did with Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, but Brees doesn’t rely on his arm strength as much as other quarterbacks. He also has a tremendous supporting cast, which includes the running game. Mark Ingram departed in free agency, but that just means that Alvin Kamara will handle more touches per game. Kamara is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, so this bad news for the rest of the NFC South. Of course, Kamara can’t do everything, so the Saints signed Latavius Murray to be a capable backup. Murray is a solid No. 2 runner who will handle the goal-line duties.

Brees also has some dynamic downfield weapons at his disposal. Michael Thomas set the Saints’ single-season franchise receiving yards record in 2018, hauling in a ridiculous 125 passes for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns. Thomas’ catch total may decline in 2019, thanks to the addition of Jared Cook. The tight end had a great season for the Raiders last season, so he should be even better with a much more accurate quarterback.

There are questions at receiver outside of Thomas. Ted Ginn is the incumbent second receiver, but he turned 34 this offseason and might not be nearly as effective next year. If so, 2018 third-rounder Tre’Quan Smith will have to step up. Smith flashed at times as a rookie, including a 10-catch, 157-yard performance against the Eagles in Week 11.

Speaking of questions, the Saints have one on their offensive line because center Max Unger decided to unexpectedly retire. The front office overpaid for Nick Easton in response, which seemed like a disastrous decision. Fortunately for New Orleans, the team was able to make amends in the 2019 NFL Draft when it took Erik McCoy in the second round. It’s unclear how well McCoy will perform as a rookie, but he can’t possibly be worse than Easton. McCoy figures to start in between guards Larry Warford and Andrus Peat. The latter was horrendous last year, though Warford played well. The Saints are much better at tackle, as Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are one of the best tandems at their position in the NFL. The one concern is Armstead’s health, which has caused him to miss 21 games over the past three seasons.

2019 New Orleans Saints Defense:
It was mentioned earlier that Brees’ yardage total wasn’t very high because the defense was much better in 2018. New Orleans couldn’t stop anything years ago, but the team has improved markedly on this side of the ball in recent seasons. The Saints ranked 11th in defensive efficiency last year, thriving in particular against the run.

However, there’s reason to believe that New Orleans won’t be as potent on this side of the ball in 2019, and that would be the injury to Sheldon Rankins. The stud defensive tackle tore his Achilles in the playoff victory over the Eagles, so he’s unlikely to play in 2019. Rankins was a big reason why New Orleans had a solid defense last year, so he’ll be missed. The Saints signed Malcom Brown to start next to David Onyemata until Rankins returns. Brown is a force versus the run, but offers nothing as far as the pass rush is concerned. Onyemata is at least a solid, underrated player.

The Saints will be able to apply heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks despite Rankins’ absence. That’s because they have a pair of stud defensive ends. Cameron Jordan has been one of the top players at his position for quite some time, while the same could be said about Marcus Davenport in the future. The Saints traded up for Davenport in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he rewarded them with 4.5 sacks in 13 games. Davenport will have to take a big step in his sophomore campaign, and based on his great athleticism, he might be able to make that leap.

Rankins’ injury isn’t the only reason why Davenport will have to play better. The secondary continues to be a weakness, as the Saints have just one sure-fire starting-caliber cornerback. That would be Marshon Lattimore, who is an excellent, young player. However, the rest of the cornerback group isn’t very good. New Orleans traded for Eli Apple during the 2018 season, but despite the fact that he’s a former first-round pick, he’s been torched in coverage quite frequently. The same can be said of Ken Crawley, who took a big step back from his decent 2018 campaign.

New Orleans’ safety play is at least solid. Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams are quality starters. Williams is known for his horrible gaffe on the Minnesota Miracle play during the 2018 postseason, but to his credit, he was able to rebound with a strong year.

The linebacking corps will return everyone from last year. Demario Davis and A.J. Klein played the most snaps and did fairly well. Davis was the better of the two, especially in run support. Third-year linebacker Alex Anzalone could prove that he deserves more playing time.

2019 New Orleans Saints Schedule and Intangibles:
The Saints are 52-24 at home this decade, including 15-4 in the past two years. This is not a surprise, as the Superdome is known as a mad house where opposing quarterbacks can’t hear anything.

Opponents outgained the Saints on both punts and kickoff returns in 2017. The team made amends for that last year, outgaining the opposition in both aspects.

Wil Lutz hit a high percentage of his kicks over the past two years. He was 28-of-30 last year and 6-of-8 from 50-plus over the past two seasons. including 4-of-5 from beyond 50.

Thomas Morstead is one of the league’s best punters. In regard to net average, he was tied for first in 2012, third in 2013, second in 2014, 10th in 2015, fifth in 2016, sixth in 2017 and first this past season.

The Saints have a tough schedule. All of their first four opponents made the playoffs last year. They later have to battle the Falcons and Panthers twice each, as well as the Bears on the road.

2019 New Orleans Saints Rookies:
Go here for the Saints Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2019 New Orleans Saints Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2019 New Orleans Saints Analysis: The Saints were one of the best teams in the NFL last year. They should’ve been in the Super Bowl, but were screwed by one of the worst non-calls in NFL history. Unfortunately for New Orleans, things will be more challenging in 2019. The team lost two key linemen (one to retirement; one to injury), while Drew Brees just turned 40. All three of its NFC South rivals improved this offseason. The Saints may also have some sort of a hangover from the bitter end to their deep playoff run. New Orleans won five games by four points or fewer in 2018, so if variance goes the other way, this could be a down year for New Orleans.

Projection: 9-7 (3rd in NFC South)

2018 Projection: 13-3. 2018 Actual Result: 13-3.
2016 Projection: 8-8. 2017 Actual Result: 11-5.
2016 Projection: 6-10. 2016 Actual Result: 7-9.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: What the Saints need most is an officiating crew that doesn’t screw them over in big games. That’s not available in the draft, however, so they must instead focus on the few areas of weakness they have on their roster. Wide receiver, defensive tackle and cornerback must all be addressed, but those needs pale in comparison to center, thanks to the surprising retirement of Max Unger.

2019 NFL Draft Accomplishments: It can’t have been a surprise that the Saints used their first selection on a replacement for the retired Max Unger. What was shocking was that Erik McCoy was available. We heard that McCoy received some consideration from teams in the late teens, so watching him fall to No. 48 didn’t make any sense. Credit the Saints for trading up and finding an amazing value to fill their greatest need.

The Saints had just two other picks outside of the seventh round, so they’re difficult to grade overall. However, safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was a tremendous find in the fourth round. Gardner-Johnson is another player who could have been chosen much earlier.

Though New Orleans didn’t have much to work with, the team did extremely well with the resources it had. The front office deserves a good grade as a result.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

48. Erik McCoy, C/G, Texas A&M A+ Grade
This is one of the best picks of the draft thus far. There was a team in the teens that was considering Erik McCoy, so to have him drop all the way to No. 48 is a major steal. The Saints needed to replace Max Unger, who retired so unexpectedly. McCoy should fill in very well. The Saints surrendered a 2020 second-round pick to select McCoy, which is not ideal, but they had to do it because McCoy was not dropping to them at the end of this round.

105. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida A+ Grade
There was some chatter that Chauncey Gardner-Johnson could sneak into the opening round, but I always had him mocked in the second frame. Gardner-Johnson is small, but he’s a terrific play-maker. I heard that he fell because he didn’t handle himself well during top-30 visits, but the Saints are getting an exceptional defensive back.

177. Saquan Hampton, S, Rutgers B- Grade
Saquan Hampton doesn’t have good instincts, so he’ll need to be coached up very well for him to make it in the NFL. There are also injury concerns that are worrisome. However, the potential is certainly there, as Hampton has nice size (6-1, 206) and athleticism.

231. Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame B+ Grade
The Saints signed Jared Cook, but needed a long-term solution. Alize Mack has the athletic upside to eventually take over for Cook in a couple of years. Mack has great upside, but needs to be developed. He drops too many passes and can’t run routes, but perhaps he can learn. If so, he’ll contribute in the future. If not, the Saints are just losing out on a seventh-round pick. The potential is worth it.

244. Kaden Elliss, LB, Idaho B Grade
Kaden Elliss is still learning how to play linebacker – he was a quarterback in high school – so he’s raw and needs development. However, he has very good athleticism, so there’s definitely some upside. It’s worth taking a shot on him near the end of the draft.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Saints were absolutely screwed out of a Super Bowl appearance, and based on how that game went, they were screwed out of another Lombardi Trophy as well. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had the authority to schedule a rematch between the Saints and Rams, and he should have done so. Unfortunately, Goodell runs the NFL like a Saudi Arabian dictator, so we didn’t get to see justice prevail.

Offseason Moves:
  • Saints sign CB Marcus Sherels
  • Saints sign TE Jared Cook
  • Saints sign C Nick Easton
  • Saints announce retirement of C Max Unger
  • Saints sign DE Mario Edwards
  • Saints sign DT Malcom Brown
  • Saints sign RB Latavius Murray

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Cornerbacks: Eli Apple was acquired during the offseason to fix New Orleans’ very problematic cornerback situation. He didn’t help, so two cornerbacks are needed; one to start across from Marshon Lattimore, and one to start in the slot. New Orleans could obtain a potential upgrade on Day 2 of the 2019 NFL Draft. Signed Marcus Sherels

    2. Center: Max Unger has decided to retire, so the Saints will need a replacement for him. Signed Nick Easton

    3. Tight End: The Saints attempted to sign Jimmy Graham last offseason, but the Packers snatched him up instead. The front office must still believe that tight end is a need. Signed Jared Cook

    4. Wide Receiver: New Orleans clearly believes receiver is a need, as it signed Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall during the season and was disappointed by both for different reasons.

    5. Guard: The offensive line was one of New Orleans’ many strengths last year. There was only one liability, which was at one of the guard spots.

    6. Young Quarterback: The Saints will need to acquire a young quarterback to groom behind Drew Brees unless they manage to re-sign Teddy Bridgewater. Re-signed Teddy Bridgewater

    7. Running Back Depth: Mark Ingram is likely to depart this offseason, so the Saints will need to find another running back to play behind Alvin Kamara. Signed Latavius Murray

    8. Punter: Thomas Morstead has been one of the NFL’s top punters in recent years, but he’ll be hitting free agency this March.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2019 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Jared Cook, TE, Raiders. Age: 32.
      Signed with Saints

      Jared Cook is coming off an amazing year. He’s enjoyed several 100-yard receiving games, as he and Derek Carr formed some terrific chemistry. It took Cook a while to blossom, but he’s finally done it. Unfortunately for Cook, he turns 32 this offseason.

    2. Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings. Age: 29.
      Signed with Saints (4 years, $14.4 million)

      Latavius Murray turns 29 this offseason, but he doesn’t have lots of mileage on his body, as he’s carried the ball 200-plus times just twice in his career. Murray is a decent runner who can be an effective receiver out of the backfield.

    3. Mario Edwards, DE, Giants. Age: 25. — Signed with Saints (2 years, $5 million)
    4. Marcus Sherels, CB/KR, Vikings. Age: 31. — Signed with Saints (1 year)
    5. Nick Easton, C, Vikings. Age: 27. — Signed with Saints (4 years, $24 million)

    New Orleans Saints Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Wil Lutz (RFA), K, Saints. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Saints (5 years)

      Wil Lutz is one of the top kickers in the NFL right now. He was 28-of-30 this past season, and he’s 6-of-8 from 50-plus over the past two years.

    2. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints. Age: 29.
      Signed with Ravens (3 years, $15 million)

      Mark Ingram has had his ups and downs in his career, but it’s been mostly up for him lately. He’s turning 30 soon, but he might be hungry to show what he’s capable of doing with the lead back job all to himself.

    3. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Saints. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Saints

      Teddy Bridgewater is difficult to rate. He was once considered a potential franchise quarterback, but he tore his knee gruesomely prior to the 2016 season. He has finally made it back and was able to start once last year. However, he didn’t have a good performance, going 14-of-22 for 118 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Perhaps another offseason will get Bridgewater to full strength, but it could be possible that he just won’t be starter material going forward. The Saints have had a good look at him in practice all fall, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do.

    4. Dez Bryant, WR, Saints. Age: 30.
      Dez Bryant is a declining player approaching 31 (in November) who struggles to separate. He has not adjusted his game to compensate for this, and he’ll need to if he wants to keep playing beyond two more seasons. He’s no longer a No. 1 receiver, but perhaps his release and subsequent injury will serve as motivation.

    5. Tyeler Davison, DT, Saints. Age: 26.
      Tyeler Davison is a solid run-plugger, but doesn’t offer much as far as pass-rushing ability is concerned.

    6. Ken Crawley (RFA), CB, Saints. Age: 26.
      Tendered by Saints (low)

      What happened to Ken Crawley? He was a very solid cornerback in 2017, but completely fell apart this past season. He was torched routinely. Perhaps he’ll be able to rebound, as he’s still young enough to do so.

    7. Kurt Coleman, S, Saints. Age: 31.
    8. Chris Banjo, S/ST, Saints. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Saints (3 years, $9 million)
    9. P.J. Williams, CB, Saints. Age: 26.
    10. Manti Te’o, ILB, Saints. Age: 28.
    11. Jermon Bushrod, OT, Saints. Age: 35.
    12. Craig Robertson, ILB, Saints. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Saints (2 years, $4 million)
    13. Jay Bromley, DT, Saints. Age: 27.
    14. Josh LeRibeus, G, Saints. Age: 30.
    15. Shane Vereen, RB, Saints. Age: 30.
    16. Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, Saints. Age: 31.
    17. Tommylee Lewis (RFA), WR, Saints. Age: 31. — Signed with Lions
    18. Michael Ola, OT, Saints. Age: 31.
    19. Daniel Lasco (RFA), RB, Saints. Age: 31.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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