Quarterback will be on the Saints’ mind during NFL Draft

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Utah State QB Jordan Love vs LSU
(Photo: Terrill Weil)

The New Orleans Saints will have quarterback on their mind when the NFL draft begins Thursday night.

They might grab a quarterback with the first pick (No. 24 overall). They might even trade up a few spots if the right quarterback is dropping lower than they expected but isn’t likely to make it to 24.

If the right quarterback value isn’t there in the first round they might be enticed to snag one with one of their other four picks in the third, fourth and sixth rounds or trade down and get one if that enables their rankings to mesh with the acquired pick.

In any event, until the Saints draft a quarterback, that position will factor into their thinking.

Keep in mind, the Saints don’t have to pick a quarterback in the draft, but they do need to add a quarterback and someone who is much more than a camp body. Head coach Sean Payton said that the Saints not only need to add a third quarterback – behind Drew Brees and Taysom Hill (who will re-sign eventually) – but they need to add one that will be active on game days because Hill has so many other responsibilities each week that it’s preferable to have a backup focused solely on quarterback in case of emergency.

An emergency did arise last season when Brees suffered a torn ligament in his passing thumb during the second game of the season against the Rams. Teddy Bridgewater was the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback and even though he struggled in his impromptu performance against the Rams he went on to help the Saints win all five games he started in Brees’ absence.

But when the Saints made sure that Brees would not be absent in 2020 and signed the free agent to a new contract last month, Bridgewater left in free agency for a starting opportunity with Carolina.

So New Orleans definitely needs a quarterback but it has two different approaches it can take.

Brees, who turned 41 years old in January, gave retirement serious consideration before re-upping. Payton said in an interview with ESPN that this would be Brees’ last season, though he later said he misspoke.

Then Brees reportedly agreed to a contract with NBC to be an analyst when he does retire. Perhaps this won’t prove to be Brees’ last season, but that is surely a realistic possibility.

So if the Saints see an opportunity to draft Brees’ ultimate replacement they will almost certainly seize it – even if it requires trading up, which they have never been reluctant to do.

But their roster is strong enough that they don’t have to reach for any position and take someone sooner than their ranking would justify.

Former LSU star Joe Burrow presumably is going to be selected by Cincinnati with the first overall pick. Three other potential “franchise quarterbacks – Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, Justin Herbert of Oregon and Jordan Love of Utah State – are projected to be selected before New Orleans selects, but a trade that enables the Saints to move up and pick one of them isn’t out of the question.

The presence of any of them at No. 24 would certainly be tempting to Payton.

The absence of a second-round pick due to the trade that brought center Erik McCoy in last year’s draft limits New Orleans’ drafting and trading options.

A handful of other prospects – most notably Jacob Eason of Washington, Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma and Jake Fromm of Georgia – could factor into the Saints’ early-round thinking, depending on their rankings.

The draft might come and go without the Saints finding the right value to pick a quarterback at any given spot.

Then they would return to free agency to find their third quarterback among the veterans still on the market. Perhaps they’ll pursue a stop gap – someone such as former Ravens and Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco or perhaps they could trade for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, either of whom could be a reliable backup to Brees until the long-term replacement is found, perhaps in the 2021 draft.

Or perhaps they’ll look for a veteran to possibly ultimately succeed Brees – someone such as former Panther Cam Newton or former Buccaneer Jameis Winston.

The Saints need to find another quarterback for next season. They need to find Brees’ successor in the near future, but not necessarily in this draft. So those two needs may or may not merge during this draft.

They have to do something, but they don’t have to panic.

But until they find that missing quarterback that position will be on their minds each step of the way.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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