Since taking over as head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2006, Sean Payton has molded New Orleans into one of the best franchises in all of the NFL.
The season may have ended in disappointment Sunday night after a divisional playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the team was still a formidable force in 2020. They won 12 games and ended the regular season as the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
All that could very well change in 2021.
The Saints have many question marks as the offseason gets underway, starting with the quarterback position. Legendary Saints QB Drew Brees is expected to follow in the footsteps of Philip Rivers and announce his retirement soon.
With Brees likely moving on to life after football, the Saints are going to need someone to take over under center.
The club has Taysom Hill, who went 3-1 as a starter when Brees was injured. He threw four TDs and also used his legs to get out of trouble and escape pressure.
While many would assume Hill would be installed as the starter right away, Jameis Winston is also waiting in the wings, and Payton reportedly wants to bring him back in 2021. He’s on a one-year contract, though, so the Saints would have to re-sign him.
Will another team who needs a quarterback and wants to take a chance on the 27-year-old outbid the Saints for Winston’s services?
While the quarterback position is the biggest question for the Saints this offseason, how this team will manage its 21 free agents is not far behind. Most of these free agents may be backups and special teams players, but they still impacted the team as a whole.
The Saints cap situation is currently the worst in all of the NFL.
The overall salary cap is projected to drop to $176 million for 2021, and right now according to Over The Cap, the Saints are estimated to be over the 2021 salary cap by $95 million.
That means a lot of players will have to restructure their deals to stay with the team and that the Saints will be hard pressed to keep many of their free agents.
Here’s the complete list of free agents for the Saints:
1. Jared Cook, Tight End
2. Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle
3. Craig Robertson, Linebacker
4. P.J. Williams, Cornerback
5. Marcus Williams, Safety
6. Justin Hardee, Cornerback
7. Johnson Bademosi, Cornerback
8. Jameis Winston, Quarterback
9. D.J. Swearinger, Safety
10. Ty Montgomery, Running Back
11. Michael Burton, Fullback
12. Dwayne Washington, Running Back
13. James Hurst, Right Tackle
14. Ken Crawley, Cornerback
15. Bennie Fowler, Wide Receiver
16. Noah Spence, Defensive End
17. Alex Anzalone, Outside Linebacker
18. Trey Hendrickson, Defensive End
19. J.T. Gray*, Safety
* Restricted Free Agent
20. Cameron Tom, Center
21. Lil’jordan Humphrey*, Wide Receiver
* Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Offseason Outlook: The Saints have a TON of work to do with 21 free agents and Brees’ likely retirement.
It will be the most challenging offseason in Payton’s 14 seasons as head coach, and he and GM Mickey Loomis will be under a lot of pressure to build a competitive roster with limited cap space and lots of moving pieces.
This could be a season of transition for the Saints, who have won the NFC South the last four seasons, but lost in the Wild Card round once, the Divisional round twice, and the NFC title game once.
Look for a massive house cleaning in New Orleans this offseason, and for the Saints to make plenty of headlines. Their roster will probably look a lot different when they take the field for the first time in 2021.