Previewing Saints 2021 Offensive Depth Chart Amid Drew Brees Retirement Rumors
The New Orleans Saints offense may have a different look to it in 2021.
If Brees decides to retire in the coming weeks, New Orleans has two potential replacements ready to fight for his spot.
Jameis Winston has the edge in starting experience over Taysom Hill, but Hill received starts when Brees was out injured in the regular season.
If the Saints figure out their quarterback situation, they should be in a good spot to contend for another NFC South crown since most of their key offensive weapons are slated to return for next season.
The Saints should try everything in their power to bring back Winston to create a competition between him and Hill for the starting gig, if Brees retires.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Saints came away impressed with what they saw from Winston in his first year with the franchise.
"My understanding is, despite not playing him, they do want to bring back Jameis Winston. They love what they've seen in practice this year. They've seen the arm talent. They've seen all the skills that made him a No, 1 pick. They love the work ethic. They just haven't seen him show that he's learned mentally to cut down on the interceptions because he hasn't played."
It would make sense for all parties involved for Winston to spend at least another season in New Orleans.
Winston would get a shot to compete for a starting job inside a system he is familiar with, while the Saints would have two solid options to replace Brees, instead of starting over again at the position.
Hill turned in three 200-yard performances during Brees' injury absence, but he only had two touchdown passes in that span.
Winston was not on the field much this season, but he did play a role in the divisional-round loss to Tampa Bay by throwing a 56-yard touchdown pass.
If Winston cuts down on the turnovers that plagued him in Tampa Bay, he could once again be an NFL starter.
The only way for New Orleans to know that for sure is to bring him back based off what it saw in 2020 and have him go head-to-head with Hill for the starting job.
The other quarterback scenario features Hill earning the job without much competition if Winston signs elsewhere. In that case, the Saints should try to draft a quarterback at some point in April.
The Saints have a decent chunk of money invested in their top two running backs.
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray are scheduled to earn a combined $4.950 million in base salary next season, per Spotrac. Their combined salary cap hit is much higher at $9.2 million.
Kamara posted personal single-season bests in rushing yards and touchdowns. He finished 68 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard campaign.
Murray has been a solid backup to Kamara in his two years in New Orleans. He recorded back-to-back 600-yard seasons and totaled nine touchdowns in that time.
The one-two punch in the backfield should help whomever the new quarterback is adjust to the role inside Sean Payton's system.
Kamara's ability to impact the game in both aspects of the offense should ease the pressure off Winston, Hill or another player who may try to force the ball downfield in his first few starts to impress the coaching staff.
Kamara led the Saints in receiving yards with 756 and finished 30 yards ahead of the top wideout, Emmanuel Sanders.
Of course, the Saints would like those totals to flip in favor of their wide receiver unit in 2021, but having Kamara as support through the air is a vital asset to have.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The production from the wide receiver position took a hit in 2020 because of Michael Thomas' injury absences.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Thomas "is likely to have surgeries" on a torn deltoid and ligaments inside his ankle that plagued him this season.
Thomas, who has an $18 million cap hit for 2021, recorded his first season under 1,000 yards and failed to catch a pass in the divisional-round loss.
A healthy Thomas will be a welcome sight to whomever wins the quarterback job, if Brees retires, and his presence inside the offense makes the New Orleans' situation intriguing to any signal-caller.
Emmanuel Sanders and Tre'Quan Smith are also under contract for next season, as are a handful of young wide receivers who chipped in during Thomas' absence.
At tight end, Jared Cook needs a new deal to stay around, while Josh Hill and Adam Trautman are under contract.
New Orleans' wide receiver and tight end rooms may look younger in 2021 since it has to save some money across the roster.
According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, the Saints "are projected to be nearly $100 million over the salary cap" because of the expected drop in salary cap caused by the revenue loss in the last year.
The Saints could shed Sanders' $8 million salary to pave the way for younger wide receivers, or cheaper free agents.
Smith recorded 448 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season and caught a pair of scoring throws on Sunday.
If the Saints believe he can slide into the No. 2 spot behind Thomas, they could led Sanders go and develop more players beneath Thomas and Smith, or add a cheaper veteran for the No. 3 spot to ease some of the salary cap pain.
Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference
Contract information obtained from Spotrac