2020 NFL Offseason: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints (Last Year: 13-3)

2020 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Jameis Winston, RB Ty Montgomery, WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE/OLB Anthony Chickillo, LB Nigel Bradham, S Malcolm Jenkins.
Early Draft Picks:
C/G Cesar Ruiz, LB Zack Baun, TE Adam Trautman. Saints Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Teddy Bridgewater, FB Zach Line, G Larry Warford, G Patrick Omameh, CB Eli Apple, S Vonn Bell.

2020 New Orleans Saints Offense:
It was unclear if Drew Brees would return for another year, given that he was a free agent entering this offseason. There was some speculation that he would retire. However, Brees quickly quieted that discussion, as he announced that he would play for New Orleans for at least another season.

Brees’ return automatically gives the Saints another chance at a Super Bowl. It seemed as though they had a legitimate shot the past few seasons, but poor luck and circumstances have ruined their chances. There was the Minnesota Miracle, followed by the worst non-call on an obvious pass interference anyone has ever seen. Last year, Brees’ broken thumb played a factor, as he didn’t have his usual grip on the ball when he committed a key fumble in a playoff loss to the Vikings.

With Brees returning, the Saints needed to give him one more weapon, as they’ve had a huge hole across from Michael Thomas for a long time. Thomas is arguably the best receiver in the NFL, but between Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith, the No. 2 receiver position has been a big area of weakness for years. The Saints finally obtained an upgrade by signing Emmanuel Sanders away from the 49ers. Sanders was traded to San Francisco in the middle of the 2019 campaign, ultimately catching 66 passes for 869 yards and five touchdowns. However, he was paired with Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo in 2019, so Brees is an obvious upgrade.

In addition to Thomas and Sanders, Brees will have a couple of talented tight ends at his disposal, Jared Cook and rookie Adam Trautman. Cook turned 33 this offseason, but he should still have one or two more capable seasons remaining in the tank. If not, Trautman has the talent to take over eventually. Then, of course, there’s Alvin Kamara, who’s a dynamic, dual threat out of the backfield. Kamara wasn’t quite himself last year because of an injury he suffered in Week 6. He’ll be much better in 2020 if he can remain healthy. Latavius Murray is still around to serve as a premium backup.

With the supporting cast improved, the Saints decided to bolster the offensive line in the opening round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Given that guard Larry Warford has been aging and declining a bit, New Orleans selected his successor at No. 24 overall with Cesar Ruiz. The Michigan product can play both center and guard, and he’ll slide into Warford’s spot. He’ll play next to second-year center Erik McCoy and disappointing guard Andrus Peat. McCoy had a promising rookie campaign, but Peat needed to be upgraded.

Peat is the only liability up front as long as Ruiz lives up to his first-round billing. In fact, the Saints arguably have the top tandem of tackles in the NFL with Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. The only concern with Armstead is his durability. He played 15 games last year, but missed 21 contests in the previous three seasons.

2020 New Orleans Saints Defense:
The Saints had some liabilities in their secondary last season. That prompted them to make a pair of transactions to transform their weakness into a strength.

The first move was acquiring Janoris Jenkins after the Giants parted ways with him. Jenkins struggled with New York last year, but seemed to be unmotivated because he was on a bad team. Jenkins improved his play immediately with the Saints, serving as a major upgrade over Eli Apple across from Marshon Lattimore, one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL.

New Orleans still had a hole at safety, which it plugged by signing Malcolm Jenkins in free agency. Jenkins returned to the Saints after a 6-year tenure in Philadelphia. He turns 33 in December, but he’s still an excellent, versatile player. He can be used at safety or in the slot, and having him in the secondary will be a huge boon to New Orleans’ chances of finally winning the Super Bowl again. Jenkins will start along with Marcus Williams, who has evolved into one of the better safeties in the NFL even though he’s just 23.

It’ll be difficult to pass on the Saints. Not only do they have a great secondary, but they also possess a terrific pass rush. Cameron Jordan is still one of the top edge rushers in the NFL. He turns 31 this offseason, but he’s coming off a 15.5-sack campaign. He’ll start across from former first-round pick Marcus Davenport, who is expected to make a big leap in his third year. He notched six sacks in 13 games this past season.

Davenport isn’t the only New Orleans defensive lineman who figures to improve in 2020. There’s also Sheldon Rankins, who wasn’t 100 percent in 2019 because he was coming off a torn Achilles. Now two years removed from that injury, Rankins will be back to his former, dominant self. He’ll play in a rotation with the run-stuffing Malcolm Brown and well-rounded David Onyemata.

Rounding out the defense with the linebacking corps, the Saints have Demario Davis, who has been a great performer for them ever since joining the team. He’ll work with the pedestrian Kiko Alonso on base downs and the promising Chauncey Gardner-Johnson when the team is in nickel. Gardner-Johnson is effective at covering the slot.

2020 New Orleans Saints Schedule and Intangibles:
The Saints were 58-27 at home this past decade, including 21-7 in the previous three years. This is not a surprise, as the Superdome is known as a mad house where opposing quarterbacks can’t hear anything.

New Orleans was mixed on returns last year. The team outgained the opposition on punts and was beaten on kickoff returns.

Wil Lutz hit a high percentage of his kicks over the past three years. He was 32-of-36 in 2019 and 9-of-13 from 50-plus over the past three seasons.

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, first in 2018 and fifth this past season.

The Saints have a mixed schedule. They take on the Buccaneers (twice), Packers, 49ers, Chiefs, Vikings, Eagles and Broncos, but they’ll beat up on the Chargers, Bears, Lions and Panthers (twice).

2020 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.

2020 New Orleans Saints Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2020 New Orleans Saints Analysis: The Saints have been one of the best teams in the NFL over the past several seasons. They’ve had a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl in each of them, but suffered through horrible luck. There’s a chance this could be the year Drew Brees and Sean Payton finally win their second championship together. Outside of more poor misfortune, there’s no reason to think that the Saints won’t be in the mix for Super Bowl LV.

Projection: 13-3 (2nd in NFC South)

2019 Projection: 9-7. 2019 Actual Result: 13-3.
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: A- Grade

Goals Entering the 2020 NFL Draft: The Saints have just five draft picks, so it’s a good thing they don’t have very many needs. They could stand to find upgrades at receiver, defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback, but there’s nothing pressing that New Orleans must do. Perhaps trading down and acquiring depth will be the way to go.

2020 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Saints began the weekend with five picks, but ended up with just four prospects because of a third-round trade. Despite this, they came away with yet another impressive draft class.

Many criticized the Cesar Ruiz pick, but that’s because they are highly uninformed about the Saints. Larry Warford, whose pass protection has regressed a bit lately, is slated to enter free agency soon. Drew Brees hates the interior rush much more than edge pressure, so adding a versatile and talented interior lineman like Ruiz at No. 24 made lots of sense. It wasn’t a great pick, but it was a very solid one that will help the Saints win in 2020.

That said, I liked New Orleans’ next two selections more. Zack Baun was a steal at No. 74. Baun easily could’ve been chosen at the end of the first round without many complaints, so I don’t know how the Saints obtained him in the third round. The same can be said of future Jared Cook replacement Adam Trautman, who was graded by some teams as the top tight end in the class. Granted, that’s not saying very much, but Trautman should’ve been long gone before No. 105.

The Saints are one of the best drafting teams in the NFL, and this was yet another success. Despite coming away with just four players, they deserve to be graded very highly.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

24. Cesar Ruiz, C/G, Michigan – B+ Grade
Some will say this is a reach, but I don’t think so. I had Cesar Ruiz slotted to the 49ers at No. 31, so this is just seven picks earlier. I’ve written this many times, but we’ve been told that Drew Brees hates interior pressure much more than the edge rush. The Saints had one hole in the middle of the trenches, so it makes sense to obtain a solid offensive lineman who can play both guard and center.

74. Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin – A+ Grade
The fall has ended. Zack Baun was good enough to go in the first round, and the Bengals, at one point, was considering him at No. 33 overall. I don’t know why he fell, but I’m looking forward to Charlie Campbell’s Why the Slide segment in May. The Saints won’t be complaining, as they’re getting the linebacker upgrade they could have easily obtained at No. 24 overall.

105. Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton – A+ Grade
It’s baffling that so many scrub tight ends were chosen prior to Adam Trautman, especially when considering that some teams had Trautman graded as the top tight end in the class, even above Cole Kmet. Trautman should’ve been chosen in the second round, so the Saints are getting a tremendous steal at this spot. This is an A+ grade despite the trade up.

240. Tommy Stevens, QB, Mississippi State – B- Grade
Taysom Hill will take over for Drew Brees in the future, but the Saints needed a developmental quarterback for the future. Or rather, a developmental Taysom Hill. Tommy Stevens is a lot like Hill, minus the passing ability.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Saints have been screwed over by non-pass interference calls over the past two years. They appeared to have a great chance to reach the Super Bowl, but the NFL did everything in its power to once again make sure that wouldn’t happen.

Offseason Moves:
  • Saints cut G Larry Warford
  • Saints sign QB Jameis Winston
  • Raiders sign CB Eli Apple
  • Saints sign WR Emmanuel Sanders
  • Saints sign S Malcolm Jenkins

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Drew Brees is a 41-year-old free agent. Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill also have expiring contracts. The Saints need to figure out what to do at the position. Re-signed Drew Brees; tendered Taysom Hill

    2. Two Cornerbacks: New Orleans’ secondary was the weakest part of the roster last year. Janoris Jenkins was an upgrade over Eli Apple, but he’s not a long-term solution. Meanwhile, they’ve struggled to defend slot receivers, so they need a better nickel corner.

    3. Wide Receiver: The Saints have needed a second receiver for quite some time. Signed Emmanuel Sanders

    4. Guard: The Saints have just one hole on their offensive line, and that would be at left guard, where Andrus Peat has struggled over the years. Peat is set to hit free agency anyway.

    5. Linebacker: Demario Davis is an excellent linebacker, but the Saints need someone better to play ahead of the unreliable Kiko Alonso.

    6. Fullback: Zach Line has announced his retirement, so he’ll need to be replaced.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2020 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, 49ers. Age: 33.
      Signed with Saints (2 years, $16 million)

      Emmanuel Sanders was traded to the 49ers prior to the deadline, and yet he clicked instantly with Jimmy Garoppolo. He made San Francisco’s offense so much more explosive. The only downside is that he’ll turn 33 in March.

    2. Malcolm Jenkins, S, Eagles. Age: 32.
      Signed with Saints

      Malcolm Jenkins enjoyed six terrific years with the Eagles, as he was part of a great defense that helped the team win the Super Bowl in 2017. Jenkins turns 33 in December, so a decline is coming, but he still performed on a very high level last year. Jenkins can play multiple positions in the secondary, so teams will undoubtedly be interested in his versatility.

    3. Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Saints (1 year, $1.1 million)

      Jameis Winston is very difficult to grade. He’s extremely gifted as a passer, and he has moments of brilliance, but he also absolutely kills his team sometimes with horrible mental blunders. He’s the first quarterback to ever throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season.

    4. Nigel Bradham, LB, Eagles. Age: 30.
      Signed with Saints (1 year)

      Nigel Bradham’s play declined this past season. He was still fine in coverage, but he was a liability in run support and missed too many tackles. Bradham turns 31 right before the start of the 2020 season.

    5. Anthony Chickillo, DE/OLB, Steelers. Age: 27. — Signed with Saints
    6. Ty Montgomery, RB, Jets. Age: 27. — Signed with Saints

    New Orleans Saints Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints. Age: 41.
      Re-signed with Saints (2 years, $50 million)

      One of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, Drew Brees is listed ahead of Tom Brady in the free agency rankings pages because he played much better than his future Hall of Fame counterpart in 2019. Granted, Brees had a better supporting cast, but the disparity between the two was vast.

    2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Saints. Age: 27.
      Signed with Panthers (3 years, $63 million)

      Teddy Bridgewater was excellent in relief of Drew Brees, throwing nine touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. He looked like the pre-injury version of himself, though being coached up by Sean Payton certainly helped.

    3. Taysom Hill (RFA), QB/WR, Saints. Age: 30.
      Tendered by Saints (1st round)

      Taysom Hill looked like just a gadget player a couple of years ago, but he was fantastic in the previous preseason, showing the ability that he could one day become New Orleans’ starting quarterback.

    4. Zach Line, FB, Saints. Age: 30.
      Announced retirement

      Zach Line is a stout blocker, mostly in the running game.

    5. Larry Warford, G, Saints. Age: 29.
      Larry Warford still blocked well last year, but was released because of his $7 million contract. He’s not the same player he once was, but he can still be a solid starter for a team at a cheaper price.

    6. Vonn Bell, S, Saints. Age: 25.
      Signed with Bengals (3 years)

      Vonn Bell is a stout in-the-box safety who thrives against the run, but he can be beaten in coverage rather easily.

    7. Andrus Peat, G/OT, Saints. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Saints (5 years)

      Andrus Peat mostly failed as a first-round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft, but he’s made numerous starts throughout the years and still has potential as a 26-year-old.

    8. P.J. Williams, CB, Saints. Age: 27.
    9. David Onyemata, DT, Saints. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Saints
    10. Patrick Omameh, G, Saints. Age: 30.
    11. Johnson Bademosi, S/ST, Saints. Age: 30.
    12. Dwayne Washington, RB, Saints. Age: 26.
    13. A.J. Klein, ILB, Saints. Age: 29. — Signed with Bills (3 years, $18 million)
    14. Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Saints. Age: 26.
    15. Ted Ginn, WR, Saints. Age: 35. — Signed with Bears
    16. Austin Carr (RFA), WR, Saints. Age: 26.
    17. Josh Martin, DE/OLB, Saints. Age: 28.
    18. Stephone Anthony, LB, Saints. Age: 28.
    19. Justin Hardee (RFA), CB, Saints. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Saints (1 year)
    20. Cameron Tom (RFA), C, Saints. Age: 25.
    21. Manti Te’o, LB, Saints. Age: 29.

    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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