The retirement of Drew Brees left a void in the New Orleans Saints organization that fans knew would be almost impossible to replace. Brees, likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer, provided excellence at the quarterback position for the Saints for 15 seasons.
After an unsuccessful run at former Texans QB Deshaun Watson this offseason, the Saints re-signed Jameis Winston, who, after three games, has more interceptions than touchdowns. Outside of the fourth quarter of the opening game against the Falcons, Winston has done nothing to inspire confidence that he is the answer at quarterback.
The Saints trade this past offseason with the Philadelphia Eagles has left the Saints without a first-round pick this upcoming draft as well as without a second-round pick in 2024. However, New Orleans will likely regain draft capital if and when Sean Payton rejoins the coaching ranks as he is still technically under contract with New Orleans until 2024. The last major coaching compensation trade was with Jon Gruden in 2002 when the Raiders received two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million in cash from the Bucs for Gruden.
While New Orleans' draft compensation may not match that of the Raiders, the Saints likely made the Philadelphia trade knowing that they should receive a fair amount of that lost draft compensation back from whatever team Payton joins.
Taking all this into account, who will be the next Saints franchise quarterback?
Will Levis (Kentucky)
Will Levis burst onto the scene last year with the Kentucky Wildcats after transferring from Penn State. Levis, who threw for 2,827 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for nine scores, showed the dual-threat ability and plus arm strength that has been successful at the quarterback position in today's NFL.
While most experts expect Alabama's Bryce Young and Ohio St.'s CJ Stroud to be the top two quarterbacks taken in the 2023 NFL Draft, it is unlikely that the Saints will be in a position to select either of them. However, draft compensation from a Payton trade may put the Saints in a position to select the talented Levis, who is projected to go mid-first round as the third or fourth quarterback in next year's draft.
Sam Hartman (Wake Forest)
An undersized, productive college quarterback whose strength is accuracy and ball placement, Hartman should elicit comparisons in profile to our beloved Drew Brees. Hartman, like Brees, is a multi-year starter on a mid-tier Power 5 school who was lightly regarded coming out of high school.
Like Brees, who only had two Division 1 offers coming out of high school, Hartman has more than proven his worth over his collegiate career. He is capable of making all the throws an NFL quarterback needs to make and has the ability to scan the field and process what the defense is showing in an expedited manner.
Currently, Hartman is graded as a late-round prospect, but expect that to change after his recent performance against Clemson. As the season progresses, the Saints would be wise to invest an early to mid-round pick to ensure the services of what could be their next franchise QB.
Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles)
Most would be surprised to find Jalen Hurts on the list of potential future Saints quarterbacks. However, prior to this season, the Eagles were reportedly not sold on the talent of Hurts and were thought to be very interested in the 2023 NFL Draft class that will include Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud.
With the added draft capital from New Orleans, Philadelphia will likely have enough ammunition to move up in the draft to select one of the two signal-callers. Hurts, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2024, could silence any lingering critics with performances like he has had over the last two games.
However, if Hurts were to become available either via trade next season or in free agency, the Saints would jump at the chance to select a quarterback with tremendous leadership ability and the dual-threat ability needed in today's NFL landscape.
Caleb Williams (USC)
Caleb Williams is likely the presumptive number 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. The Saints do own their first-round pick that year and could potentially use draft capital to move into position to select the coveted former Oklahoma QB who followed Lincoln Riley to USC.
Williams, unlike the Saints' current quarterback, has an uncanny ability to navigate a crowded pocket and make the right read downfield. Williams has thrown for 30 touchdowns with only four interceptions in his college career.
If the team who ultimately gets the top pick in 2024 already has an entrenched young QB, the top overall selection could be had for the right price. If several other teams such as the Falcons, Seahawks, and Panthers choose a quarterback in the first round this season, it may leave a team such as the Saints in prime position to move up for Williams.
Arch Manning (Isidore Newman High School)
Arch Manning, the son of Cooper Manning and nephew of NFL greats Peyton and Eli Manning, is currently a Texas commit and not eligible for the NFL Draft until 2026 so this would be a bit of a wait for the Saints.
Manning, currently the top-ranked recruit in this year's high school class, still has a lot of football in front of him until a true evaluation can be made. However, what an incredible story it would be for Arch to follow in his namesake's, grandfather Archie Manning, footsteps in wearing the black and gold as QB of the New Orleans Saints.
Saints fans certainly hope the quarterback situation is settled well before 2026, but Arch Manning would revitalize the New Orleans fan base if he came back to lead his hometown Saints in 2026 and beyond.
Who do you think the next franchise quarterback of the Saints will be?