The things standing between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their next Super Bowl win are physical. Able to be seen and explainable. It doesn’t make them easier to swallow or easier to solve either, but at least it’s not as if some magical force is keeping this team from taking their place on the big stage once more.
This can’t be said for Drew Brees and the Saints. Say what you want, but if a New Orleans Saints fan were to say they felt snake-bitten, I’d have a hard time arguing.
Twice in the past two years the Saints were the best team in the NFC. It wasn’t as big a divide in 2018 as it was in 2017, but it was still there. A match-up between Brees and Tom Brady; Saints vs New England Patriots.
It should have happened. Twice. It didn’t happen. Twice.
Both times it was miraculous or amazingly ridiculous plays which contributed to the team falling short of their goals.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still on the side of the conversation which says the Saints still had chances to beat the Rams and I’m not throwing any pitty parties for them anytime soon.
But after the way they lost to the Minnesota Vikings the year prior; I mean, come on, man.
Fans of the Bucs rejoiced in the pain of Saints fans as none wants another franchise to be the first in the NFC South to win a second title before theirs dose.
Since being hired, Bruce Arians has been talking about re-loading. Problem is, the Saints are doing the same. Let’s look at what the Saints have done to make sure they stay atop the NFC South, and perhaps get their chance to overcome whatever is standing between them and their second Lombardi trophy.
BIGGEST LOSS: RB, MARK INGRAM
Mark Ingram was at the University of Alabama when the Saints beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in their only title run in franchise history.
Two years later, he joined the squad and tried with all his might to help get the team back there.
He had thousand-yard rushing seasons in both 2016 and 2017 and despite the addition of Alvin Kamara he never faded from the Saints’ offensive plans.
At least, until this offseason. Ingram inked a deal as an unrestricted free-agent with the Baltimore Ravens, and while he surely loves the organization he’s spent his first eight seasons with, he’s not going to be part of their Super Bowl plans any further.
Instead, it’ll be Kamara and I suppose Latavius Murray.
I don’t know that Ingram ever became a marquee player for the Saints as far as the league and national attention is concerned. But on many ways, his play style and approach to the game since arriving to the NFL have fit what the Saints have portrayed themselves as all along.
Hard working, less glamorous than some, but just as tough and in the fight as anyone.
With Ingram’s ‘grit’ gone, will Murray bring the same to the table? Because from where I stand, Ingram brought more than just yards to the New Orleans Saints. That’s where he’s going to be hardest to replace.
Other Key Losses: SS, Kurt Coleman; FB, John Kuhn; C, Max Unger
BIGGEST GAIN: DT, MALCOLM BROWN (FA, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS)
Malcolm Brown isn’t going to go down as one of the great New England Patriots of all time, but if he helps plug the middle for the New Orleans Saints while getting some inside pressure on quarterbacks, then he might be a fan favorite by season’s end.
Fans might end up looking at Brown and wondering what might have been had he been on the squad in Minneapolis.
Whether it was because of lack of depth or due to injury, the Saints had a need up front on their defense, and they went out and solved it by signing Brown.
Considering the draft’s top starting quality interior linemen were all off the draft board when the team finally got to pick a player on day two, I’d say getting a guy like Brown without losing any draft capital is a win.
2019 2ND-ROUND DRAFT PICK: C, ERIK MCCOY (TEXAS A&M)
The Saints didn’t have a 2019 first-round draft pick thanks to the trade from which they ended up drafting Marcus Davenport during last year’s selection meeting.
After not trading into the first-round, the New Orleans Saints selected Texas A&M center, Erik McCoy.
In what would be their only day two pick of the 2019 NFL Draft as well, the Saints got what just about every NFL offensive line coach would want: Options.
The team signed Nick Easton in the off-season to replace Max Unger, and now with McCoy the Saints have a tried-and-true best man wins the job while the next man wins another job.
New Orleans has given themselves a better shot at getting a solid line in front of Drew Brees and his running backs, now it’s just a matter of figuring out which players will play in which positions. A good problem to have.
BEST DRAFT PICK: S, CHAUNCEY GARDNER-JOHNSON (FLORIDA)
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was one of the day three stories which had people most confused. Mainly, they were confused about why he was a day three story at all.
All year leading up to the draft, Gardner-Johnson was an early day two guy with some mocks even having him creeping up to the first-round.
But then the first and second rounds came and went. People were surprised he was still available in the third-round. It’s the NFL Draft though, so things get weird sometimes.
Then the second-day ended, and Gardner-Johnson still didn’t have a team. What? Was there an Instagram video we all missed? A tweet we didn’t read? A test he’d failed? A TMZ story waiting to break? Nothing.
We still don’t know. And maybe he just wasn’t as valued as we all thought he would be. At the end of the day, just like with any player, it won’t matter where he was drafted.
Gardner-Johnson has the opportunity now to join a team poised to make a Super Bowl run and the Saints have a defense good enough to make the run, but in need of talent enough to find somewhere for a player with his versatility to contribute.
Like McCoy, with their second-pick of the entire draft, on day three the Saints gained options.
BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION: WHO WILL DREW BREES THROW TO?
This may seem like a rhetorical question, but it’s not. Michael Thomas is great and Alvin Kamara can run and catch and do both at the same time. Got it.
But can the Saints really continue to rely on these two to carry the load and catch the bullets?
In 2018, Brees threw for just under 4,000-yards and completed 364-passes to do it. More than half of those yards and completions went to Kamara and Thomas.
The third-highest receiver after those two was a running back who plays in Baltimore now (scroll up if you missed it). Tre’Quan Smith, who I assume is the favorite to be the second-receiver this year, caught 28 passes for 427-yards and five touchdowns.
Good numbers, but I feel like he’ll need to nearly double those if he’s going to legitimately draw some attention away from Thomas and Kamara.
New Orleans did draft Alize Mack from Notre Dame and he’s got some athletic upside as a tight end if he takes to NFL coaching really well.
I know it’s not something Saints fans are likely worried about, but it feels like the team is playing with fire.
One misstep or improperly planted foot by either Thomas or Kamara, and this offense is plum out of primary weapons.
Check out even more talk about the current state of the New Orleans Saints with Ross Jackson, host of Locked On Saints! Listen in as he joins the Locked On Bucs Podcast for a special post-draft crossover episode!