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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
John Sigler

Ranking the Saints’ most important team needs for 2024

It’s no secret that the New Orleans Saints are a flawed team: their three-year playoffs drought is proof of it. So changes are obviously going to be needed this offseason. But where to begin? Who could cure what ails them?

Some disgruntled fans are calling for an overhaul of team leadership with a new head coach, general manager, and quarterback, but none of those things are going to happen this offseason. We need to keep expectations realistic.

Here are some positions of need the Saints should prioritize in the spring, along with realistic free agent targets and possible draft prospects who might be available when New Orleans is on the clock.

Want: Quarterback

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Carr finished strong in 2023 and it’s possible he could carry that over into 2024 if the Saints can hire the right offensive coordinator. But he is who he is at this point in his career: an underachiever who can’t will a team into the postseason (much less win a playoff game) the way great quarterbacks in this league can. The Saints absolutely should look for a long-term answer under center and consider a first-round quarterback. But don’t bet on it. Dennis Allen is going down with this ship. Expect the Saints to work to support Carr, not replace him. That doesn’t mean they won’t draft a quarterback later on (or sign a veteran backup in free agency) to push Jake Haener for the backup job.

Outgoing free agents: Jameis Winston (for all intents and purposes)

Realistic free agent targets: Tyler Huntley (Baltimore Ravens), Drew Lock (Seattle Seahawks)

Mid-round draft prospects: Michael Pratt (Tulane Green Wave), Sam Hartman (Notre Dame Fighting Irish)

Want: Safety

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

There’s little reason to bring Marcus Maye back in 2024 — he’s missed a full 17-game season’s worth of time between injuries and a suspension the last two years, and releasing him with a post-June 1 designation would save more than $7.2 million (which the Saints would get later this summer, just in time to sign their draft class). Even if he does return, they can’t count on him to start each week. He and Tyrann Mathieu are both entering the final year of their contracts so it’s worth investing in a succession plan for at least one of them.

Outgoing free agents: Johnathan Abram, Lonnie Johnson Jr.

Realistic free agent targets: Julian Blackmon (Indianapolis Colts), Jordan Fuller (Los Angeles Rams)

Mid-round draft prospects: Javon Bullard (Georgia Bulldogs), Tyler Nubin (Minnesota Golden Gophers)

Want: Linebacker

Norm Hall/Getty Images

Pete Werner regressed this year and Nephi Sewell ended the season with a tough injury, which was really disappointing for him after he made strides to win the spot as Demario Davis’ top backup. The Saints finally let Zack Baun rush the passer, which he picked up where he left off in college, but if he’s smart he’ll go to a team that will let him do it full-time. Davis isn’t getting younger and if Werner has stalled out the Saints should look to add another player to the group. It’s a precarious position.

Outgoing free agents: Zack Baun, Ryan Connelly, Andrew Dowell

Realistic free agent targets: Drue Tranquill (Kansas City Chiefs), Blake Cashman (Houston Texans)

Mid-round draft prospects: Payton Wilson (NC State Wolfpack), Cedric Gray (North Carolina Tar Heels)

Want: Running back

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Saints invested a lot at running back by signing Jamaal Williams and drafting Kendre Miller in the third round last year, but neither of them made much of an impact (though Miller ended the year on a high note with a strong performance against a highly-rated Atlanta Falcons run defense). Alvin Kamara can’t do it all on his own. The Saints need to get younger and more explosive in the backfield even if it costs them.

Outgoing free agents: Eno Benjamin

Realistic free agent targets: Devin Singletary (Buffalo Bills), Zack Moss (Indianapolis Colts)

Mid-round draft prospects: Jaylen Wright (Tennessee Volunteers), Cody Schrader (Missouri Tigers)

Need: Wide receiver

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have just two wide receivers under contract for 2024 in Chris Olave and A.T. Perry, not counting Michael Thomas (who must be released or extended by March). Rashid Shaheed will return as an exclusive rights free agent but they need more bodies at this position, and adding a veteran who can make a play after the catch or win on contested targets would bring a new element to the receiving corps. There’s room for growth here and another high-end pickup could really elevate the offense.

Outgoing free agents: Rashid Shaheed (ERFA), Lynn Bowden (RFA), Keith Kirkwood, Michael Thomas (for all intents and purposes)

Realistic free agent targets: Josh Reynolds (Detroit Lions), Kendrick Bourne (New England Patriots)

Early-round draft prospects: Rome Odunze (Washington Huskies), Brian Thomas Jr. (LSU Tigers)

Need: Slot defensive back

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tough to put too much blame on him because the coaches didn’t do a good enough job preparing him for it, but Alontae Taylor was the worst slot corner in the league this year. No player gave up more yards or catches when covering the slot. After barely playing the role in his rookie year or at the college level, the Saints had Taylor split practice reps in training camp in the slot and outside before moving him there full-time, and it didn’t work out. They need to invest in a real solution and put Taylor back outside where he’s at his best.

Outgoing free agents: Ugo Amadi

Realistic free targets: Kenny Moore II (Indianapolis Colts), Jourdan Lewis (Dallas Cowboys)

Mid-round draft prospects: Eddie Heckard (BYU Cougars), Mike Sainristil (Michigan Wolverines)

Need: Defensive tackle

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints signed a couple of mid-level veterans last year and got middling results; Bryan Bresee made a consistent impact on passing downs but he has a lot to learn about stopping the run in the NFL. While they tied for the fourth-fewest touchdown runs allowed, the Saints gave up the 11th-most rushing yards per carry and per game. Finding another disruptive interior lineman to run with Bresee would do wonders for this defense. The Saints use a four-man rotation and Malcolm Roach leaving in free agency would open a spot for a newcomer.

Outgoing free agents: Malcolm Roach, P.J. Mustipher (ERFA)

Realistic free targets: Grover Stewart (Indianapolis Colts), Quinton Jefferson (New York Jets)

Early-round draft prospects: Byron Murphy (Texas Longhorns), Kris Jenkins (Michigan Wolverines)

Must: Offensive tackle

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

You can make the case for both tackle spots. Trevor Penning has not developed as quickly as hoped on the left side, while Ryan Ramczyk’s knee condition makes right tackle a concern, too. Bringing back Andrus Peat would just be a Band-Aid. The Saints have already invested a lot of draft picks and salary cap resources at this position but they haven’t gotten a strong enough return.

Outgoing free agents: Andrus Peat, Cameron Erving

Realistic free agent targets: Jermaine Eluemunor (Las Vegas Raiders), Josh Jones (Houston Texans)

Early-round draft prospects: JC Latham (Alabama Crimson Tide), Kingsley Suamataia (BYU)

Must: Left guard

AP Photo/Danny Karnik

James Hurst was the weak link in the offensive line for much of the season, but the Saints also saw too many snaps from guys like Max Garcia. They traded up to the front of the fourth round to pick Nick Saldiveri (a college right tackle) but moved him out of position to left guard, and he barely played before going down with an injury. They need a better plan for attacking this problem, whether it’s signing a proven commodity in free agency or going back to the draft.

Outgoing free agents: Max Garcia

Realistic free agent targets: John Simpson (Baltimore Ravens), John Runyan (Green Bay Packers)

Early-round draft prospects: Dominick Puni (Kansas Jayhawks), Christian Mahogany (Boston College Eagles)

Must: Defensive end

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints had the fourth-lowest sacks total last season and consistently struggled to pressure quarterbacks; they can’t go into 2024 counting on Cameron Jordan being a three-down player again. He’s still strong in run defense and is far from washed, but he isn’t making enough of an impact on third downs and in obvious passing situations. It’ll be tough to budget for a big free agent after extending Jordan and Carl Granderson last summer but the Saints have not drafted well at this position, either.

Outgoing free agents: Kyle Phillips

Realistic free agent targets: Dorance Armstrong (Dallas Cowboys), Josh Uche (New England Patriots)

Early-round draft prospects: Jared Verse (Florida State Seminoles), Bralen Trice (Washington Huskies)

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