The New Orleans Saints face a potential blank slate at quarterback, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic in the Big Easy.
If this was almost any other team, facing this same situation, some emotional upheaval would be completely understandable.
The New Orleans Saints are on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason, and the organization faces critical questions at the game’s most important position. Perennial MVP candidate Drew Brees, who turned 41 years old two weeks ago, is uncertain of his own playing future. Teddy Bridgewater is set to hit unrestricted free agency, as is the team’s Swiss army knife, Taysom Hill.
If that sounds like the complete depth chart, top to bottom, it is.
Back to the whole “any other team” thing. Picture your favorite team (if it’s not the Saints) watching every experienced quarterback, every single option on the active roster, suddenly leaving in a single spring. If your team fared poorly in 2019, then that’s perhaps a welcome thought—or even the current game plan—if your rooting interests are located in, say, Cincinnati or Miami. But if you cheer for a team like the Saints, one with 133 wins in Brees’ 14 seasons, then the prospect of a blank slate isn’t a welcome idea.
However, there are numerous reasons for Saints fans to take things as easy as their city name this offseason and realize the franchise remains in good hands no matter how things turn out—that is, if anything changes at all.
No Decision Yet
The primary reason for Saints fans not to panic about the QB room comes down to the fact that no changes have been made yet. At this point, any projections one way or the other are premature.
Last weekend, Brees suited up to play in yet another Pro Bowl and the veteran said he has a “process in mind” for how he’s going to make up his mind concerning his playing status for next season. “I’m really waiting until football is totally done … Then, I’ll kind of lay low for a little bit, get away and then assess. I kind of have a process in mind. And I’ll give it a month or so,” Brees told reporters.
In 11 starts last year, Brees posted a career-high 74.3 completion rate—good for first in the NFL—to go with a passer rating of 116.3, higher than last year’s near-MVP run. He also threw 27 touchdowns against only four interceptions. If not for a handful of missed starts due to injury, Brees would have been in a dogfight with Lamar Jackson for MVP.
If Brees does return, it’s abundantly clear that Brees is playing his best football yet even past the supposed brick wall of turning 40. He’s a remarkable passer whose intelligence, leadership, and experience keep him as sharp as ever. If he’s back, it’s business as usual no matter who else is on the depth chart.
An Important Bridge
It took some time for Teddy Bridgewater to get back to this point, to resurrect perceptions of him around the NFL as a solid starting quarterback option. But just how high those perceptions go is anyone’s guess.
For Bridgewater, hitting the open market would be a major roll of the dice in an offseason with other decent veteran options available in free agency (Tom Brady? Philip Rivers? Ryan Tannehill?), or trade (Cam Newton or Jameis Winston?) or the draft. It’s an unprecedented amount of options for quarterback-hungry teams. That doesn’t mean Bridgewater would get left out in the game of musical chairs, but it does mean that he and his agent need to do some risk assessment when it comes to his decisions.
That could give the Saints any edge when it comes to retaining Bridgewater, who looked nice in a five-start stretch as the team’s starter while Brees was out midseason. Bridgewater went 5-0 in those games, including solid defeats on the road against the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears and at home against the Dallas Cowboys. He threw 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions and looked more confident throwing downfield with each passing start.
If the Saints wanted to bring back Bridgewater as their starting quarterback, they could also decide on a draft investment without any need to rush along another prospect given how good Bridgewater looked in relief. Even more Bridgewater would likely enjoy the thought of returning to Sean Payton‘s creative playbook and steady leadership.
Just because a player can doesn’t mean he will leave. In Bridgewater’s case, it’s likely better for him to stay.
The Blank Slate
Even if the sky falls and everyone in the Saints quarterback room will be found elsewhere next season, it’s Payton’s presence that should allow everyone to feel confidence in the face of the unknown.
The Saints signed Payton to a five-year contract extension last September for good reason, and it wasn’t because anyone in the building believed that Brees would also be playing that long. They knew that if the franchise were to weather the storm of losing Brees, having Payton at the helm with plenty of security would provide an ideal captain to chart a new course.
Notice that even when Brees went down, the Saints kept winning the games they should and even pulled off close calls in games that they would have been excused for losing. Payton has never once finished outside the top 10 in total offense (yards) in the NFL since joining the Saints, and they’ve finished in the top five in total scoring in eight of his 13 seasons as head coach (never lower than 12th).
For any new quarterback, Payton would be able to direct them to the NFL’s best wide receiver in Michael Thomas, an underappreciated vet at tight end in Jared Cook and a nice backfield tandem in Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. That’s a nice cadre of weapons for any quarterback to start with, let alone what the team could add in the draft or free agency.
Whether Brees is back for one more title run or Teddy Bridgewater decides to return or the team imports a brand new face, the reality is that New Orleans is going to score points with anyone standing under center. The coaching is too good and the culture too strong to allow this offense to drag anytime soon—even in the face of a brand new depth chart.