New Orleans Likely Stuck Paying Off Roster Gambles For Years

In New Orleans, on Poydras Street near the historic French Quarter, are two famous landmarks. Hard by the banks of the Mississippi River is Harrah’s Casino. Facing it 10 blocks away is the Superdome.

At both locations, gamblers are madly “chasing,” i.e., doubling down on their bets to recoup prior losses.

From 2017 through 2020, the New Orleans Saints, aware that Drew Brees’ career was ending, made a desperate, expensive, understandable bid to reach another Super Bowl. It was a helluva try.  They won four consecutive division titles.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – DECEMBER 08: Drew Brees #9 and head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints talk prior to the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Mercedes Benz Superdome on December 08, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

But Brees and coach Sean Payton are gone.  Now what?  Have the Saints moderated their approach?  Ha!

New Orleans began the offseason $75 million over the salary cap, and promptly pushed $110 million into future years without cutting a player. The Saints recruited Deshaun Watson, in vain.  They spent $50 million on two free-agent safeties, a non-premium position. 

And they traded five picks — a 1st, 2nd, two 3rds and a 4th — in moving up to draft WR Chris Olave. 

So no, nothing has changed.  The Saints, God bless them, are addicted.  It’s no longer enough to say that their roster-building model is the boldest in the 29-year history of the salary cap.  No, it’s worse than that.

More Money Problems In New Orleans

All but one player (Kicker Wil Lutz) on New Orleans’ 53-man roster is booked for a minimum, near-minimum or qualifying salary.  In other words, the other 52 contracts have been structured/restructured/raided to max-out cap room this year, shoving massive obligations into the future. 

This is a Ponzi scheme that annually compounds debt, narrows remedies and overpays an aging squad.  It results in these kind of deals:

  • Taysom Hill, 32-year-old Swiss-Army-gadget, no longer a quarterback, is now a fourth tight end and occasional wildcat back.  He’s been on the field for only 22 snaps in the first two weeks.  The club can’t unload him. His contract is fully guaranteed both this year and next at a total cost of $20 million.
  • Andrus Peat was nowhere to be found on Pro Football Focus’ 2021 ranking of 82 NFL guards, yet he’s the League’s 7th-highest-paid at his position!  His PFF grade last season: 52.1.  Through Week 2 this season: 54.4.  PFF gives grades of 0-59 to replaceables, 60-69 to backups.  

Jameis Winston Has Been With The Saints Since April 2020

Yet none of the above compares to the Saints’ quarterback gamble.  

After failing to recruit Watson, the safe, conventional play would have been to stopgap with an inexpensive veteran QB and hoard picks for the quarterback-loaded 2023 draft.

New Orleans QB Jameis Winston
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – OCTOBER 25: Jameis Winston #2 of the New Orleans Saints in action against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at Lumen Field on October 25, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

To the contrary, the Saints gave QB Jameis Winston, coming off an ACL tear, a $28 million contract.  After his three-interception meltdown Sunday against Tampa Bay, the worry once again looms:  Maybe he’s not the answer?

If a quality QB becomes available next winter in free agency, could the Saints afford him? They’re already a league-worst $65 million over the projected 2023 salary cap with only 37 players signed.

What about the draft? They’ve already forfeited next year’s 1st round choice and their 2024 2nd rounder for Olave. Moving up for a quarterback-of-the-future would require a fistful of picks stolen from future years. And would the club actually invite comparison to its similar, disastrous pursuit of Ricky Williams in the 1999 draft?

On both ends of Poydras Street, this would be the definition of “chasing.”

Written by Terry O'Neil

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  1. Man I hate the Saints. The fact that they’re going to be getting their comeuppance for years to come and also didn’t cash in and actually win another ring is so, so glorious. Nice article – the comp to Harrah’s was gold.

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