Eying the crown in a weak NFC South division, the Saints once again made a handful of win-now moves last offseason, including buying a second selection in the first round of the draft from Philly. With the ripcord of Sean Payton's offensive ingenuity no longer available, losses at receiver and quarterback ultimately proved too great for the defense to overcome. Michael Thomas suffered a toe injury in Week 3 and never returned. Jameis Winston went down with a back issue a few weeks later. He was able to rejoin the Saints as a backup later in the season, but first-year head coach Dennis Allen indicated he never fully recovered. Led by Andy Dalton the rest of the way, a zombified Saints offense averaged fewer than 20 points a game en route to being eliminated from the playoffs a handful of weeks before the season ended.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 19.4 (22nd)
- EPA per play: -0.03 (21st)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.02 (17th)
- Passing yards per game: 217.2 (16th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.11 (27th)
- Rush yards per game: 116.6 (19th)
Longtime Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael was forced to take on a larger role with Payton temporarily retired and the early results were mixed. On the negative side, Alvin Kamara set a career-low in third-down snaps. He also set a career-low by a wide margin in plays lined up as a receiver. On the other hand, Taysom Hill, once thought to be Payton's passion project, blossomed into a weekly big-play threat. The quarterback/tight end/receiver/running back/punt gunner scored nine combined rushing and receiving touchdowns while tossing an additional two scores. He totaled 652 yards from scrimmage, 240 passing yards, and added 169 snaps on special teams. Chris Olave also took flight in his debut season, racking up 72 catches for 1,042 yards. Set to the backdrop of a dismal season from Dalton, the Saints' hit-or-miss offense was an understandable outcome from the reshuffled staff.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 20.3 (9th)
- EPA per play: -0.03 (10th)
- Dropback EPA per play: -0.01 (8th)
- Passing yards per game: 184.4 (2nd)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.06 (21st)
- Rush yards per game: 130.5 (24th)
With Allen being promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach and his position getting backfilled internally, the defense didn't miss a beat in 2022. Headlined by Cameron Jordan, the Saints joined the Eagles and Cowboys as the only teams with five different players who each recorded at least five sacks. Tyrann Mathieu, brought in to replace Marcus Williams, was a part of four turnovers including three interceptions. New Orleans' biggest weakness was their secondary. Missing Marshon Lattimore for much of the season because of an abdominal issue, the Saints were forced to dig into their reserves at cornerback. Outside of Lattimore, they did not have a top-100 corner according to Pro Football Focus.
Draft Picks (Top-150)
29th, 40th, 71st, 115th, and 148th
Notable Free Agents
QB Andy Dalton, DT David Onyemata, LB Kaden Elliss, DT Shy Tuttle, EDGE Marcus Davenport, and WR Jarvis Landry
LG Andrus Peat ($1.4 million in savings), QB Jameis Winston (4.4$ million), and WR Michael Thomas ($1.4 million if post-June 1)
The money gained from a post-June 1 cut isn't usable until the summer, but the Saints simply need to make headway against the cap. Peat and Wintson's cap saving would jump to $11.8 million and $12.8 million respectively if cut or designated as a cut after the first day of June.
The Saints have four defensive tackles set to hit free agency. Even if David Onyemata, the best of the bunch, is brought back, New Orleans could add a player with more potential via the draft.
Thomas's contract was restructured after another lost season. The move makes it far easier for them to move on from him this offseason, which they obviously plan to do.
Cesar Ruiz and Andrus Peat have both been graded as below-average guards in each of the past three seasons. Ruiz is a free agent next year and Peat could be cut to save cap space.
The Saints swapped out a few position coaches in the offseason. Their big change, however, will be at defensive coordinator. With Dennis Allen being promoted from that role to head coach last year, Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard took over as co-defensive coordinators. Both coaches received interest from other teams but only Nielsen landed a gig, taking over as the next defensive coordinator for Atlanta. The team then parted ways with Richard and hired former Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods. Allen called the plays on defense last year and that isn't expected to change, so this isn't a major shift for the defense.
Quarterback is arguably the team's biggest need, but with their first pick coming at No. 30, it's hard to see how they can do more than build a sturdier bridge at the position. Veterans like Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo are on the table, but the Saints could ultimately ride out Winston's contract before replacing him in next year's draft. Facing an NFC South division that was weak before Tom Brady's retirement, an improved Saints roster will be a legitimate playoff contender, though their Super Bowl aspirations are questionable. It's safe to expect the usual offseason from New Orleans again this year. They will continue making their contract restructures to get compliant with the cap before doing their best to reload for another fringe playoff season.