The New Orleans Saints finished the 2020 season with yet another playoff run, but next season is likely going to look very different for New Orleans due to the expected retirement of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. While Brees’ presence will no doubt be missed, head coach Sean Peyton has proven time and time again that he can win without Brees at quarterback. In 2019, it was Teddy Bridgewater going 5-0 as a fill-in starter. This season, it was Taysom Hill going 3-1.
Some quick history, the following are the Saints’ last five years ‘ worth of first-round draft picks:
● 2020: Cesar Ruiz (C)
● 2019: none (used pick to move up in 2018 first round to take Marcus Davenport)
● 2018: Marcus Davenport (DE)
● 2017: Marshon Lattimore (DB)
● 2016: Sheldon Rankins (DT)
Brees and the Saints agreed to restructure his contract, with the intentions of freeing up some cap money for next season. Under his old contract, Brees was set to have a $36.15 million cap hit this year, as well as an $11.5 million cap hit in 2022. In order to get out of cap trouble, New Orleans has converted just about all of Brees’ 2021 salary to a signing bonus. Because the veterans minimum salary is $1.075 million, they took $23.975 million from Brees’ salary and gave it to him immediately. By doing this, New Orleans can spread out the actual cap hit of this year’s salary over the rest of his contract, as opposed to just this year. Brees’ deal runs until 2023 (two void years after 2021), so his new signing bonus is split evenly until then. If Brees files his retirement paperwork after June 1, the Saints can push some costs out another year.
Even with all this restructuring, the Saints are still going to be pressed for cap space. This makes hitting on players in the draft that much more important.
Over the past few seasons, the Saints have done plenty of work in the first round on both their offensive and defensive units up front. Four of their last five first-round selections have been players who fill either an offensive or defensive line position. With speculation surrounding Brees’ retirement, as well as the current cap situation for the Saints, there is no shortage of work to do down in New Orleans.
The following players mentioned below are players who could possibly be on the move, either through trade or being cut due to their 2021 cap hit. Their age is in parentheses:
● Kwon Alexander (26)
● Janoris Jenkins (32)
● Nick Easton (28)
● Emmanuel Sanders (33)
● Malcolm Brown (27)
The Saints have the 28th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Here are four possible directions they may take:
Possibility #1: Missouri LB Nick Bolton
Career: 35 games played, 149 solo tackles, 224 total tackles, 16.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, 2 INTs, 15 PDs, 1 FR
The Saints could benefit from a young, athletic player being added to their linebacking corps. Demario Davis has developed into more of a pass rusher for the Saints, not to mention the fact that he is 32 years old. Kwon Alexander, as mentioned earlier, could be traded/cut due to his 2021 cap hit.
Bolton can do it all from a linebacker standpoint. Although there are some knocks on his size and length, there is no question about his motor and toughness to play the position. Bolton has great awareness of where to be and is constantly flowing to the football. Throughout his career, Bolton has shown the ability to play all LB spots, including the slot. The Saints would love Bolton’s versatility and aggression. His combination of speed, toughness and instincts would only add to an already dominant defense.
Possibility #2: Purdue WR Rondale Moore
Career: 20 games played, 178 receptions for 1,915 yards, 17 TDs (total)
In a year where there’s likely to be a new quarterback under center, it would be a smart move for the Saints to load up on offensive weapons. Moore is among the best slot receivers in the 2021 draft class. He has shown the ability to line up in the backfield and is dangerous at all three levels. Moore shows no lack of toughness — he is constantly seen running routes to the middle of the field on slants/ins.
If the Saints choose to move on from Sanders, picking up an impact wide receiver in the draft becomes that much more important.
Possibility #3: Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr.
Career: 31 games, 71 solo tackles, 97 total tackles, 4 INTs, 29 PDs, 2 FR, 1 FF
Drafting Samuel Jr. comes into play if New Orleans decides to part ways with cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Behind Jenkins on the depth chart is Ken Crawley (6 games in 2020) and Justin Hardee (10 games in 2020). Adding a cornerback with their first-round pick would bring needed depth at the position. This is an area where New Orleans can’t afford to pay top dollar because of their cap situation. They are better off going after a talented young player like Samuel in the draft.
Being the son of two-time Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler Asante Samuel, there is the added belief that football is in his blood. During his time at Florida State, however, Samuel Jr. led a defensive unit that never found its stride.
Possibility #4: Alabama DL Christian Barmore
Career: 24 games played, 63 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 10.0 sacks, 5 PDs, 3 FFs
The Saints could look a lot different on the defensive front come 2021. David Onyemata, who had a career year in terms of sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (10), QB hits (16), and pressures (24) will be back for New Orleans, entering his sixth season. Sheldon Rankins, has been solid for the Saints when on the field, but has battled injuries throughout his career. He enters 2021 as an unrestricted free agent — and with the Saints’ cap situation, he may have too high of a price tag for New Orleans to bring back. Malcolm Brown is another Saints defensive lineman that could be on the move in 2021, he carries a $6.5 million cap hit. New Orleans will also have to decide whether to exercise Marcus Davenport’s fifth-year option, otherwise he will become a free agent in 2022.
With all this possible shuffling on defense up front, Christian Barmore is a name that comes to mind. Barmore played himself into the first round based on his performance in the National Championship game. Anyone watching the game was able to see the destructive nature that Barmore possesses. He had 2 sacks and 2 TFLs in the Tide’s rout of Ohio State. Although he is a less experienced player, he has shown versatility in his two playing years with Alabama. Barmore is a powerful defensive lineman that will only get better with more coaching at the next level.
Sportrac, Football Reference
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