The 2023 New Orleans Saints season is long over, but that doesn't mean we can't pass the long offseason by looking ahead to the Saints 2024 season already.
As the 2023 season comes to a close with the upcoming Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, it's time to look ahead to this offseason and what moves can and should be made to propel the Saints into the playoffs in 2024. This year, the New Orleans Saints find themselves in familiar territory...being $83 million above the salary cap going into next year. Mickey Loomis and cap expert Khai Harley have successfully managed to navigate similar cap deficits in the past and still add to the team for the following season. Here is a breakdown, by position, of the offseason moves and projected 2024 Saints roster.
QUARTERBACK - Derek Carr, Jake Haener
The ire of Saints fans this season, when not justifiably directed at head coach Dennis Allen or offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, was thrust upon new quarterback Derek Carr. Carr had a mediocre season, even by his standards, and had confrontations with star players Chris Olave and Erik McCoy. The question moving forward was how much of that was due to the pedestrian play calling of Pete Carmichael. Carr carries a 2024 cap hit of 52 million if released but the dead cap drops to a manageable dead cap of $17.1 million at the conclusion of next season. It is imperative that the Saints do not restructure Carr's contract in an attempt to get under the cap, as this would likely increase any future cap hit if the organization wanted to part ways with Carr at the end of the 2024 season. Jameis Winston is a free agent who himself carries a $10.7 million dead cap due to previous restructuring, but it is highly unlikely that he returns given the end of the year controversy in ignoring head coach Dennis Allen's request for a kneel-down in the closing moments of the Falcons win in the last game of the season. It is likely the Saints bring in a veteran QB to camp to challenge Haener for the QB2 role on the team, but the presence of Taysom Hill likely makes the Saints comfortable riding with the second year pro as Carr's backup.
RUNNING BACK - Alvin Kamara, Kendre Miller, Jamaal Williams, Adam Prentiss
The advanced analytics show that Alvin Kamara has regressed but the watchful eye of the Saints offense this year emphasizes his importance to the team. Expect Kamara to return to the black and gold for one more season as the team tries to maximize his usage under a new offensive coordinator before likely parting ways after next season. Kamara's 2025 salary currently sits at over $22 million so his contract is one that would need to be addressed for him to remain with the team beyond 2024. Kendre Miller was drafted to provide a youthful jolt to the Saints running back room but injuries robbed him of most of his rookie season. Expect him to be more involved in his second year, especially given that locker room favorite Jamaal Williams failed to show much in his limited playing time but whose contract likely keeps him on the roster for one more season at least. Adam Prentiss is a restricted free agent, and the Saints are one of a handful of teams in the NFL that still roster a fullback so a minimum deal likely will be reached for his return to New Orleans or another veteran fullback will be signed in his place.
WIDE RECEIVER - Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, Demarcus Robinson, Keith Kirkwood, Lynn Bowden
Chris Olave hit his stride towards the end of the 2023 season, posting three 100 yard games in his last six contests and catching four of his five total touchdowns in the second half of the season. His running mate, Rashid Shaheed, is a restricted free agent, so expect his return on a one-year deal or a negotiated multi-year contract. On a similar note, Lynn Bowden is an exclusive rights free agent and can be brought back on a one-year deal and the Saints could bring back Keith Kirkwood on a veteran minimum deal. It is likely the Saints organization has reached the end of the road with veteran WR Michael Thomas, as his off the field disruption has overshadowed the marginal play seen from him in his limited availability of the last several seasons. This would provide more playing time for A.T. Perry, who possesses the contested-catch radius needed for as a red zone threat in the Saints offense. Demarcus Robinson would be an ideal veteran wide receiver addition, especially as the Saints pursue a Sean McVay prototype as offensive coordinator.
TIGHT END - Juwan Johnson, Foster Moreau, Taysom Hill
The tight end room will look similar to last year, minus the addition of under-utilized red zone weapon Jimmy Graham. Look for a new offensive system to maximize the talents of Juwan Johnson, a versatile pass-catching TE who showed an early connection with Carr that never fully materialized during the season. A day 3 rookie tight end could be added to the team as unfortunately the team lost promising young TE Lucas Krull to Sean Payton and the Broncos last season.
OFFENSIVE LINE - Erik McCoy, Cesar Ruiz, Ryan Ramczyk, Trevor Penning, Nick Saldiveri, Landon Young, Andrus Peat, James Hurst, Trai Turner, Taliese Fuaga
Outside of Derek Carr himself, the play of the offensive line may have been one of the more disappointing aspects of the 2023 Saints season. The continued development of Trevor Penning is imperative to the future of the organization, but his optimal position may be on the interior as he likely doesn't possess the quickness or footwork to deal with speed rushers in the NFL. This fact, combined with the degenerative knee of Ryan Ramczyk, is why it is likely the Saints will select an offensive tackle in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft. Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga has experience at multiple positions along the offensive line and could be insurance in case Penning doesn't work out at left tackle or Ramczyk's medical concerns take him off the field in 2024 and beyond. Andrus Peat, due to multiple previous restructures to his contract, carries a current dead cap $13.6 million if not on the team, so a 2-3 year extension makes sense, especially given his improved play at left tackle stabilized that position for the Saints in the latter half of 2023. Veteran inexpensive depth will likely be added and it wouldn't be a surprise to bring back versatile OL James Hurst as well as Trai Turner, who was signed by the Saints in 2023 but suffered a torn quadriceps muscle before playing a single game in black and gold.
DEFENSIVE LINE - Cam Jordan, Carl Granderson, Bryan Bresee, Khalen Saunders, Nathan Shepherd, Payton Turner, Isaiah Foskey, Malcolm Roach, JT Tuimoloau
The demise of the dominant Saints defense's during Dennis Allen's tenure can be seen as a failure to draft and develop edge rushers. New Orleans used high draft capital on Marcus Davenport, Payton Turner, and Isaiah Foskey and haven't seen any production in return. If Alabama's Dallas Turner or FSU's Jared Verse are available in the first round at pick 14, the Saints could pass on OL to select one of the impact pass rushers in round one. However, New Orleans could go back to the Ohio State well to select defensive end JT Tuimoloau on day 2 of the draft. Tuimoloau, 6'4" and 270 pounds, fits the requisite size the Saints look for in defensive ends, as Cam Jordan enters the twilight of his career. The Saints did well to restock the defensive room given the drafting of impact rookie Bryan Bresee and the signings of Saunders and Shepherd. The Saints would be wise to bring back effective run stuffer Malcolm Roach but may be unable to match a sizable offer from another team as he had a solid season in the middle for New Orleans.
LINEBACKER - Demario Davis, Pete Werner, D'Marco Jackson, Anfernee Orji, Anthony Barr, Andrew Dowell
Demario Davis remains the heartbeat of the Saints defense and earned All-Pro honors for the fifth consecutive season. Davis, who is signed through the 2025 season, is a good candidate for an additional restructure to his contract to save money this season by extending or adding void years to the deal. Werner is a rising star in the league and remains Davis's sidekick. The rest of the linebacker room is fairly young so expect a veteran free agent signing. New Orleans showed interest in Anthony Barr last season and he could be someone the Saints could bring in as a veteran reserve linebacker for the 2024 season.
DEFENSIVE BACK - Paulson Adebo, Alontae Taylor, Isaac Yiadom, Shemar Jean-Charles, Tyrann Mathieu, Jordan Howden, Jonathan Abram, Justin Evans
The obvious name missing in the above list is star cornerback Marcus Lattimore. New Orleans restructured Lattimore's contract this season in a way that a majority of his 2024 salary is due to be paid out one week before the start of the 2024 NFL season, making him an obvious trade candidate as the Saints try to bite into that $83 million cap deficit while getting back precious draft capital. The improved play of Adebo and Taylor, as well as the emergence of Isaac Yiadom, whom the Saints would likely resign if Lattimore is traded, would give the Saints three solid cornerbacks for the upcoming season. This is another position where the Saints would likely sign a veteran corner or draft a cornerback early on day 3. As far as safety, Marcus Maye certainly underperformed, and the emergence of rookie Jordan Howden likely makes him a potential release or trade candidate this offseason. In this event, expect the Saints to bring back locker room favorite Jonathan Abram as well as potentially bringing back Justin Evans, who spent last season with the Eagles after playing well for the Saints in 2022.
SPECIAL TEAMS - Blake Grupe, Zack Wood, Lou Hedley
Expect New Orleans to bring in competition at both kicker and punter after the surprise release of veteran Will Lutz and Blake Gilliken. Hedley was tremendous in directional punting and pinning opponents deep in their own territory but he had several short punts in key situations during the 2023 Saints season.
It certainly will be interesting to monitor this offseason as the Saints attempt to get under the salary cap while still fielding a competitive team in Dennis Allen's final shot as head coach in the NFL. It would take a tremendous offseason for New Orleans Saints fans to go from chanting "Who Dat" to "Two Dat" by the end of the 2024 campaign.