After back-to-back seasons in which they failed to make the playoffs, the New Orleans Saints have a difficult path to postseason contention in 2023.
Back in November, we looked at the difficult offseason ahead, pointing out that the Saints are well over the 2023 salary cap and without a first-round draft pick in the 2023 NFL Draft on April 27. Those are just a few of the reasons New Orleans could struggle again next season unless they make some brilliant moves in the next few months.
For this piece, let’s zoom in on the quarterback position. Since Drew Brees’ retirement following the 2020 season, the Saints have started five players under center.
Jameis Winston started seven games in 2021 and just three in 2022, while 35-year-old Andy Dalton started 14 games this year. In 2021, Trevor Siemian (0-4 in four starts), Taysom Hill (4-1 in five starts) and Ian Book (who lost his only start) all played far more meaningful snaps than most Saints fans would have hoped.
Dennis Allen’s team heads into the offseason with only Winston under contract, and it’s unclear whether the Saints will actually bring him back. That means the Saints are almost certainly going to have to get creative. The statistics posted this year by Dalton, who is currently a free agent, were not bad. However, the New Orleans offense scored just 19.4 points per game for the year.
Who are the Saints’ QB options for 2023?
Keep Jameis Winston or re-sign Andy Dalton
With a 6-4 record in his 10 starts the last two years, the 28-year-old Winston could be retained to at least compete for the starting job in 2023. But injuries have limited him the past two years – after he backed up Brees in 2020 – and he threw 30 interceptions in his final season as a Buccaneer in 2019.
So if (and that’s a huge if) you’re relying on Winston again, you’re hoping for his first good, healthy season since 2018, which was an eternity ago. Without going any further, it feels safe to say that time is likely up on the Winston-as-a-starter era.
Dalton, even if he had been lights-out in 2022, would not be a great option based simply on the fact that he’ll turn 36 in October. At the risk of stating the obvious, the Saints need to have a new signal caller under center come training camp.
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New Orleans Saints’ 2023 free agent options
Any time you’re hoping to bring in a free agent at quarterback, your options will all have some downsides. Look no further than the Saints division rivals for a few of the countless recent examples we’ve seen.
The Bucs’ signing of Tom Brady in 2020 was the exception to the rule. The Panthers and Falcons are great examples of the rule, as the former have signed or traded for Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield the last three offseasons. The Falcons also failed to strike gold when they signed Marcus Mariota last offseason to replace Matt Ryan.
All that being said, there are a few intriguing names out there, starting with Brady himself. For this piece, though, we’ll focus on options that are more affordable (have we mentioned this team’s salary cap issues?) and realistic – oddsmakers currently list the Saints as +4000 to sign Brady.
Brissett was serviceable for the Browns until Deshaun Watson returned to the team after his suspension. In his first season in Cleveland, Brissett completed a respectable 64% of his passes, but threw only 12 touchdowns in 11 starts. Brissett profiles as a solid backup, but would not represent a clear upgrade from Winston/Dalton.
Saints fans know Bridgewater well, as he backed up Brees in ’18 and ’19, going 5-0 as a starter in his final season as a Saint after stepping in to replace an injured Brees. At this point, the 30-year-old Bridgewater, like Brissett, looks more like a quality backup than a viable starter for an entire season. But unless this cap-strapped team can pull off a surprising trade or find luck after the first round of the draft, someone like Winston, Dalton, Brissett or Bridgewater is the most likely answer to this team’s QB question.
Could the Saints trade for Derek Carr?
It’s possible Carr, under contract through 2025, will waive his no-trade clause to force his release, which would make him a free agent.
While Carr’s contract with the Las Vegas Raiders has a few years remaining, it’s hard to imagine he returns to a team whose building he didn’t enter down the stretch this year. Carr proved over nine years as a Raider that he’s a competent starter and an accurate passer, but his 2022 campaign was a letdown after the team signed star receiver Davante Adams last offseason.
Whether the Saints would have to trade for Carr or sign him on the open market, he’d likely cost more they can afford unless they were willing to mortgage their future for him.
Do the Saints have a chance to find a starter via the NFL Draft?
It’s possible, but the lack of a first-round pick will make that extremely difficult.
The divisive Florida prospect has a ton of upside, but it’s at least a remote possibility that he’ll be available late in the first round (if the Saints could acquire a pick late in the first) or in the second round.
It’s unlikely he’ll be around long enough for the Saints to have a real shot at him. Given the state of this franchise right now, though, Richardson would be a gamble worth taking if New Orleans gets the opportunity.
Hooker was well on his way to a possible Heisman Trophy season – or at least an invite to New York as a finalist — for Tennessee this year. But a torn ACL that he suffered against South Carolina in the Vols’ second-to-last game of the season on November 19 prevented that from happening. Hooker was going to have a hard time getting drafted in the first round due to his age (he just turned 25, and 15 NFL quarterbacks who took snaps this season are younger).
Now that he’s coming off a recent ACL injury, it will be fascinating to see what happens to his draft stock.
Hooker’s health and age are major concerns for an early-round quarterback prospect. Still, he showed enough against several quality defenses in 2022 – in addition to lighting up Alabama for 385 yards and five touchdowns, he threw for 300-plus yards, two touchdowns and no picks against Pitt and Florida – to make him an intriguing option for a team like the Saints.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert