Saints: Panthers could become a threat in NFC South

New Orleans Saints. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
New Orleans Saints. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Winning the NFC South just became a *tad* more difficult. Following the Stephon Gilmore trade to the Carolina Panthers, the New Orleans Saints might be staring down the barrel of a third-place finish this season.

In a surprising move, the Patriots announced they planned to release Gilmore on Wednesday after failing to mutually agree to a restructured deal. The Panthers gave New England a 2023 sixth-round pick in exchange for the veteran cornerback and will be responsible for the $5.8 million of Gilmore’s 2021 contract.

It’s a trade we can’t help but grind our teeth at.

The Saints probably wouldn’t have the cap space to pull it off even if they wanted to (insert scoff), but that’s not the point. The point is that one of the league’s most prolific corners just landed in one of their rival teams in the NFC South.

Carolina now has a cornerback tandem of Gilmore and recent acquisition C.J. Henderson that frankly looks better than the Saints’ secondary unit at the moment. Nothing but love and praise to Marshon Lattimore and Bradley Roby, but those Panthers corners will make any defensive coordinator salivate.

At the same time, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey seems to be recovering well from his hamstring injury and could return to the lineup as early as Sunday.

New Orleans Saints must be ready for a tough division battle in 2021

Add that the Panthers’ have a 3-1 start to the season (and beat New Orleans in their matchup), and the Saints are seething indeed.

New Orleans will have to claw their way up the division table after falling to the Giants and notching two losses on their record already. The Panthers and the Buccaneers each have 3-1 records, though Carolina lost to Dallas last week.

The Bucs eked by with a win against Brady’s former team in Week 4 and unfortunately (but predictably), they look like Super Bowl contenders yet again.

The only team New Orleans doesn’t have to worry about is the Atlanta Falcons, but still, third place isn’t pretty to a team that finished first in the NFC South in the last four seasons.

Breathe. It’s only Week 5.

The Gilmore trade might not be as good as it looks on paper, and the Panthers still have to be cautious with CMC. The NFL season gets filled with so many twists and turns that it’s hard to comment on anything with certainty, but for right now, Carolina is trending upward.

They made the trades we hoped the Saints would make early in the season, and now New Orleans has to pay the price.

The next three season games could be critical for the Saints’ division contention as New Orleans will face Washington, Seattle, and then Tampa Bay. By contrast, the Panthers have a softer schedule playing Philly, Minnesota, and the New York Giants.

But we’re going to complain about “fairness” here. New Orleans had their chance against New York.

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With Carolina fortifying their roster and gearing up for their own first-place division campaign in 2021, the Saints can’t afford to lose any more ground in this race. The competition has never been stronger.