From the Basement | Who could play quarterback for Saints?

Jake Blancher, Associate Sports Editor

saints quarterback
Nathan Rich

Ever since Drew Brees decided to hang up his cleats following the 2020 season, the New Orleans Saints have struggled to find a steady replacement. Instead, they’ve had five different starting quarterbacks, all en route to two disappointing seasons. While not quite the ‘aints of 1980 lore, the franchise is not where it wants to be. 

The answer is in limbo as to who will take the snaps when the next NFL season commences in 2023. Will it be one of the quarterbacks already in-house like Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton or Taysom Hill? Will they sign a free agent signal caller or opt to take a shot on a quarterback in the draft this April?

Option 1: A player under roster in 2022

This would be the simplest solution to the quarterback problem for Saints general manager, Mickey Loomis. Winston and Hill are already under contract for 2023, and while Dalton is a free agent, he could likely be re-signed for a low price. With the franchise projected to be roughly $30 million over the salary cap in 2023, cost is a concern that probably keeps Loomis from getting a good night’s sleep. Adding to his insomnia, none of these quarterbacks in play have enjoyed any sustained success wearing black and gold. 

Winston is injury prone and profoundly reckless with the ball. Hill is not a true quarterback and likely cannot be relied on for a full season’s work under center. Dalton has been unequivocally lackluster, not only this past season but for the majority of his 12 year long career. While these in-house options may offer the cheapest route, they are unlikely to turn around the declining franchise. 

Option 2: Offseason acquisition

Former Las Vegas Raider Derek Carr is the most likely free agent quarterback signing for the Saints. Saints head coach Dennis Allen is the primary link to the Fresno State University product. Allen was the head coach of the then Oakland Raiders who decided to select Carr in the second round of the 2014 draft. Carr has high praise for Allen and said that the duo have a “great relationship” while calling the coach both “brilliant” and “smart.”

Finding himself employed by a largely dysfunctional franchise that has seen six head coaches, two cities and zero playoff wins in his era with the team, Carr distinguished himself as one of the few bright spots in dark times. He was both the longest tenured Raider and AFC starting quarterback until his recent release

Over nine seasons, the four-time Pro Bowler is among the league’s upper echelon of passers, averaging about 248 yards per game on 64.6% accuracy. For his career, he has thrown 217 touchdowns against 99 interceptions. 

However, there are some obstacles to clear before Carr could stay in the Big Easy indefinitely. For one, even after a two day long visit to the Saints, Carr exercised his no-trade clause, effectively refusing to be sent to New Orleans. 

An even bigger obstacle is the aforementioned cap situation of the Saints. Carr will surely garner some massive offers in free agency, likely to the tune of about $40 million annually. The Saints would need to significantly restructure to free up the funds to sign Carr. This means likely parting ways with not only Jameis Winston, but also Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith from an already thin wide receiver room.

There are of course other free agent quarterbacks available — namely Jimmy Garropolo, Daniel Jones and Lamar Jackson. But none either significantly upgrade the team or are within its price range. 

Option 3: The 2023 NFL Draft

With Sean Payton now in Denver, the Saints have recouped a first round pick — 29th overall — in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft. 

Though risky, landing a franchise quarterback on a rookie deal is incredibly advantageous, with nine of the last 11 Super Bowls featuring a starting quarterback on their first contract. 

Premier talent like Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud are likely to be long off the draft board when the Saints pick at 29, but quality options will still remain. Three SEC quarterbacks all with relatively similar archetypes  — Will Levis, Anthony Richardson and Hendon Hooker — will likely be in the mix.

Levis is likely the third best quarterback option in the draft. A raw prospect with a cannon for an arm and notable mobility, he has been compared to both the elite Josh Allen and struggling Carson Wentz. Some are concerned with his unremarkable stats, but others attribute them to the dearth of surrounding talent in skill positions, especially considering he played the majority of his games against star-studded SEC defenses.

Richardson is a more raw and unrefined version of Levis. Both boast elite arm strength, prototypical size and unexceptional stats. Richardson edges out Levis in pure athleticism but is in a deficit in terms of ball placement. Richardson’s combine performance, which is sure to raise his stock, could be enough to propel him into the first round.

Hooker was underwhelming in his three years at Virginia Tech but hit his stride upon his arrival at Tennessee, with a combined 58 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Another prospect with an ideal frame and athleticism, Hooker is a proven leader and winner. Despite tearing his ACL a few weeks prior, Hooker cheered on his Volunteers from the sideline, bound by crutches, in an Orange Bowl victory over Clemson.

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