Saints offseason quarterback search just got even more important

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The New Orleans Saints made bold decisions last week, committing to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and the majority of their offensive coaching staff per media reports.

The decision to go with the status quo was heavily scrutinized because it comes off of a season in which the Saints ranked No. 22 in scoring offense, their worst finish in that metric since 2005.

It was conceivable that the Saints could look to revamp their offensive approach and philosophy with a fresh perspective at offensive coordinator in particular. That’s the move that many Saints fans were practically begging to see. However, head coach Dennis Allen, general manager Mickey Loomis and the New Orleans brass went through their postseason evaluations and decided to stick to their identity and commitment to continuity and cohesion.

The Saints could have tried to bring in a young up-and-comer to be their offensive coordinator like we have seen teams do over and over again throughout recent seasons. Perhaps a fresh face could have elevated the skill position players and supported whatever quarterback to facilitate the system. That’s not happening.

With New Orleans opting to maintain their staff, they are going to need a different level of play from their 2023 quarterback. Unless things improve dramatically, the Saints will not be able to win with a game manager next season. They now need a playmaker, a game changer at the football’s most important position.

Allen and the Saints organization pushed to trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson last year. When that trade did not come to fruition, they re-signed Jameis Winston and brought in Andy Dalton to be a veteran backup. After the first three weeks of the season, the team turned to and stuck with Dalton as their starter. The result was a 7-10 record with a mediocre offensive output.

The Saints battled through injuries and other issues but the team was not elevated by its quarterback play. The offense would often sputter in the second half of games, fall apart in the red zone and struggle to maintain drives. New Orleans needs someone who can win them games.

Here are a few options from multiple paths of acquisition the Saints could turn to this offseason and whether or not they check the necessary boxes to help the New Orleans offense rebound in 2023.

Trade Market
Every year, the NFL sees a flurry of trades that send players or draft capital to new cities. The Saints could revisit the aggressive nature they had last year in pursuing Watson to instead try and obtain another option. There are a few passers already expected to be on the trade block this summer, but others could end up joining the field as well.

Derek Carr
(Phoot: Parker Waters)

Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr
Carr was in Allen’s final draft class before his time as the Raiders head coach came to an end. The former Fresno State Bulldog has also spoke highly of the relationship he has maintained with the Saints head coach. This could be a perfect match in terms of “want to” from both the Saints organization and the player’s perspective.

It will cost the Saints some of their already depleted draft capital, but if they end up recouping selections through trading the rights of former head coach Sean Payton, a move for Carr has legs.

Is he a playmaker? Hard to go that far with Carr. He is not a player that you give the reigns to and say “go make something happen” nor is he the type of player that is going to improvise out of structure to make spectacular players. He’s no Patrick Mahomes. Ther eality is, no one that the Saints will be able to approach this offseason is.

What Carr does bring to the table that the Saints have not seen often since the retirement of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees are late-game heroics. It may surprise many to learn that Carr has been credited with the fourth-most fourth-quarter comebacks among active NFL quarterbacks. His 28 comebacks surpasses Dalton’s career number by just three, but while Dalton has had only two such comebacks in the last two seasons, Carr has been credited with 10 in the same span. Carr might not be a playmaker per se, but he has proven he can win games in the right situation.

Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields
Fields may be the polar opposite to Carr. He will make incredible plays out of structure, break huge runs and show off what he can do with his legs. The former Ohio State Buckeye is special. However, concerns around his ability to make his reads and deliver accurate passes are something that may keep the Saints at bay if Fields does hit the market.

Even having a chance to trade for Fields would first require the Bears to decide to invest their No. 1 overall pick this April on another quarterback, perhaps Alabama’s Bryce Young. But if Chicago went that round, I could see New Orleans at least making a phone call.

As for whether or not he is an optimal fit for what the Saints will need in 2023, it is hard to know. What we have all seen from Fields so far in his career is not up to the standard of what many had hoped to see from him.

Could Fields’ struggles as a passer be more about the system than an inability to translate to the NFL? Chicago has also lacked in overall receiver talent. These are obvious questions the Saints would have to answer before pursuing Fields. If they feel that they could create a scheme with surrounding talent that would not only support but elevate Fields’ talent, much like we say the Miami Dolphins did this past regular season with Tua Tagovailoa, this move could be exactly what they are are seeking. There’s a lot of qualifiers to tackle to get there.

New England Patriots QB Mac Jones
Jones’ name was floated around a bunch during last year’s trade deadline. With the Bailey Zappe factor looming, could New England and their former first rounder be headed towards a divorce like the one being discussed around the Bears and Fields? Much like with Fields, I would be very surprised. But that does not mean that Bill Belichick and the Patriots don’t have a price.

Jones is a winner. There are worse track records than passing through the Alabama and New England programs before making his way to your favorite franchise. But is he, at the NFL level, a game-changing quarterback? Hard to say ‘yes” to that one.

It feels like Jones would have been a better option here with a changing offense. Let’s say, for example, a Kyle Shanahan disciple that brings in a wide zone system that takes the Jimmy Garoppolo’s of the world and plops them into a system to simply focus on facilitating. Without change on the staff, it is hard to expect New Orleans to be able to provide that offense in 2023 until we see it.

Free Agency
One of the biggest challenges the Saints will face this offseason is their need for a playmaking quarterback without money available to sign a playmaking quarterback. And to be honest, there are unsurprisingly few game-breakers hitting the market. If the criteria comes down to a quarterback that can win you games by taking the contest over, the options are slim.

Cam Jordan, Tom Brady
(Photo: William E. Anthony)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
It sounds like Brady is expected to depart from Tampa Bay this offseason. If he hits the market, he will be one of if not the hottest name in free agency. Many have connected him to the Miami Dolphins (thanks to previous misgivings by the Dolphins organization that cost them their 2023 first-round picks and more), the Las Vegas Raiders and of course his old stomping ground in New England.

But what about New Orleans? Yeah, the Saints did not make a major change at play caller (at least to our knowledge) but they still have assets and weapons that would be attractive to a free agent. Wide receivers Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed, running back Alvin Kamara along with tight end Juwan Johnson (who, as a restricted free agent, would not be hard to retain) all provide some exciting potential for a quarterback.

All-in-all it seems unlikely Brady would be interested in coming to the Big Easy without Sean Payton at the helm.

Brady is exactly the type of top-shelf quarterback the team may be in need of in 2023. Albeit he may well retire as he clocks in at 45 years old and there are reasonable questions to ask in regard to who Brady is now versus who he once was (even a year or two agao). But if Brady returns to the game for another go, I would be shocked if the Saints don’t get involved.

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
A lot of folks shy away from Jackson because they are concerned about his play style that critics claim has caused him to miss games at a concerning clip over the past two seasons. It is still worth mentioning that Jackson was drafted because of what he was able to do in a pro-style offensive at the collegiate level with Louisville.

Now, it does not look one bit like Jackson will be leaving Baltimore, which openly committed to the talented passer in their end-of-season pressers and made it clear that he would be a big part of their offseason offensive coordinator search.

So, this may quickly turn into nothing more than the same “what could have been?” musings of the 2018 NFL draft. But if Jackson does somehow hit the market, New Orleans should consider selling the farm to get him in the black and gold. He’s exactly the type of game-breaking quarterback that would make the Saints a success for years to come. That is provided he stays healthy, of course.

San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
While Carr is a game manager with a much-needed instinct for endgame success (a must in the NFL), Garoppolo is a game manager with the hottest and coldest of streaks in him. Yes, he has led a team to the Super Bowl. Many will clamor at the idea of Jimmy G to New Orleans, but it is a move that gives me much pause.

Garoppolo is notorious for missing on key throws, spiraling when he faces adversity and carrying with him a laundry list of concerning injury woes. This is a player the Saints should consider avoiding.

If they were going to be in a position to change their system and wanted a facilitator, there may not be a better option than Garoppolo but that will not be the case. That should not be the approach to building the roster. Both Carr and Garoppolo have been in the NFL since 2014. In that time, Carr has led 28 fourth quarter and 33 game-winning drives (fifth among active quarterbacks). Garoppolo has led just 11 of each, respectively.

NFL Draft
With the Saints expected to be tens of millions of dollars over the 2023 league salary cap and Loomis’ commitment to getting the Saints “back to the middle,” the draft will be the most cost-effective way to address their lingering quarterback issue.

At this moment, New Orleans does not have a first-round pick after trading it to gain two selections in last year’s first round. It’s a move the Saints have been please with thus far. So, unless the Payton trade yields them a 2023 first, the Saints may have to roll the dice on quarterback later than teams usually do when looking for a potential starter. That puts top-shelf prospects like Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Will Levis of Kentucky out of reach. But that does not mean the Saints would be without options worth their investment.

Hendon Hooker

Tennessee Volunteers QB Hendon Hooker
If you want a quarterback that has shown a propensity to run a system, make plays out of structure and take over games in this year’s draft, Hooker fits the bill.

Now, the most important part of his draft process will be his medicals. But as observed in one of our previous explorations of the talented passer, the timeline for his ACL recovery is not one that makes it an unimaginable that he could return to the field in 2023.

Hooker was a part of a Tennessee offense that was system heavy. Specifically, one that utilized coverage leverage to inform the team’s talented and fast group of wide receivers of what routes to run out of their option-based route deployment. For instance, receivers start by running a deep stem (pushing up field to sell a vertical route) if the cornerback in coverage plays over the top, the receiver will sit down and work the open space underneath. If they push up field and the corner allows them to get on top, the receiver then turns on the jets and blows by them on a fly route.

These concepts are not foreign at all to the Saints, who have had option routes built into their system for wide receivers like Marques Colston and Michael Thomas as well as out of the backfield for Kamara. It would not take much for the Saints to build a scheme off concepts familiar to both Hooker and the team. They have the perfect archetypes at wideout with Olave and Shaheed as well.

BYU Cougars QB Jaren Hall
Saints quarterback coach and passing game coordinator Ronald Curry is going to get an up-close look at Hall at this year’s Senior Bowl. Hall will be one of the National Team quarterbacks, and Curry will be serving as his offensive coordinator. The Saints love their Senior Bowl prospects, having drafted 16 players from their time in Mobile, Ala. since 2015. Hall could be one of the next. He has impressive leadership skills, an arm that allows him to make throws at all three levels and the mobility that would allow him to be an x-factor with the ball in his hands.

Yes, Hall is a little bit of an older draft prospect after spending his first two years at BYU serving his mission. But just like with Hooker, this should not be a knock to him especially based on the way today’s NFL game Is officiated and how late into careers we have seen quarterbacks now play at a high level.

Hall’s biggest concerns will be around his official measurements and progression timeliness. But if the measurements come out at or above 6-foot tall, his stock could take a step forward throughout the draft evaluation process. That could make him a premier mid-round target for the Saints.

In-House Candidates
Having already discussed Dalton, who is presently not under contract but could re-sign to start or backup a new starter, two possible quarterback options remain on the Saints roster going into the 2023 offseason. But will one of them remain in New Orleans by the time the season gets started? And the other… well, he might be seeing more quarterback snaps anyway.

Jameis Winston

New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston
After losing his starting role to Andy Dalton before the first quarter of the season wrapped up, it is hard to imagine Winston will return to New Orleans for another season. He expressed his frustration publicly and who knows what the whole story is. It seems very much like the team and Winston ill be headed towards a bit of a contentious split.

But, if winston were to stick around, one must assume that his arm and scrambling ability could be better in 2023 than they were early on in 2022 after suffering multiple fractures in his back. It feels like this is already a foregone conclusion that Winston will not be a Saints next season.

Until that is for sure, the possibility of him being the starting quarterback again does exist, especially if the team invests in a rookie quarterback that may not be ready to go for Week 1. However, even then, the writing is on the wall that Winston would eventually be again supplanted. It is now a tough situation to sell him on, one must imagine.

New Orleans Saints TE Taysom Hill
The “TE” designation never feels quite right for Hill, who took 148 snaps at quarterback in 2022 versus just 51 in-line at tight end, per Pro Football Focus. But there is no doubt that Hill is a playmaker. His ability as a passer has grown, connected on deep passes and better facilitating the ball with varying throw speeds (a consistent issue for him a season ago) and his game changing ability as a runner are hard to ignore.

While Allen started the 2022 season announcing the Hill would not be a part of the quarterback conversation, it could be argued the Saints should allow him another shot to at least compete for the role depending on their investments at the position.

Obviously if the team lucks into a Lamar Jackson, Hill will not be competing for a thing.. However, if the team decides to go for a mobile passer in the draft, they could build their offense around Hill in preparation for the young signal caller to eventually step into the starting tole. That change could happen in 2023 or over the 2024 offseason.

Having a player behind center who knows the system but can add value with his legs may be the way the Saints continue their continuity approach while still shaking things up.

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Ross Jackson

Saints/Football Analyst

Ross Jackson has been the host of the daily Locked On Saints podcast, covering the New Orleans Saints since 2018. Since then, his host role has expanded to include co-hosting Locked On NFL on Tuesdays with a focus on in-depth analysis on the biggest stories across the NFL and fantasy football. Ross is also a contributor for Saints Wire, part…

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