No team in the NFL this season has bigger shoes to fill than the New Orleans Saints as they have to replace arguably the greatest regular-season quarterback ever in the retired Drew Brees. Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill will battle to win the starting job in training camp. The Saints have won the NFC South four years in a row but aren’t favored on the NFL odds this year – Tampa Bay is favored in the division.
Analysis NFL 2021 | New Orleans Saints
As good as Brees was, and he holds nearly ever major regular-season passing record – although Tom Brady will pass him for some this year – he never won an NFL regular-season MVP Award and just one Super Bowl title. The Saints were legit contenders for the past handful of years but always seemed to find inventive ways to lose in the NFC playoffs.
New Orleans had beaten Tampa Bay soundly twice in the 2020 NFL regular season and led the visiting Buccaneers 20-13 in late in the third quarter of their divisional round playoff game, but Tom Brady led the Bucs to a 30-20 comeback win in what would prove Brees’ final game. The NFL’s all-time leader in completions and yards passing was 19 of 34 for 134 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Not a memorable way to end his career. The three picks and 38.1 passer rating were each career-lows in the postseason for Brees.
Brees officially announced his retirement after 20 seasons in March. He made 13 trips to the Pro Bowl, won two AP Offensive Player of the Year accolades, was 2006 Walter Payton Man of The Year and had an NFL-record 80,358 yards passing, 571 touchdown passes and a 67.7 completion percentage. In the 2009 season, he led the Saints to their only Super Bowl title and was the game’s MVP.
So who wins the starting job in camp? Most believe it will be Winston, the former No. 1 overall pick and starting QB for the Bucs before Brady arrived. Winston is the better passer but does tend to make horrible interceptions. Hill is a terrific runner but might be better served in a backup/hybrid role.
Coach Sean Payton revealed that the Saints intend to build the offense “a little bit” around the QB who wins the starting gig.
“I think both of the players we’re talking about have had the benefit of training, being in meeting rooms with him, and seeing the daily grind. And I think we go from there,” Payton said. “Obviously, there’s a high bar for our team. … And I think both of those guys will rise to the challenge. They both understand the importance of the reps that we’re going to have in this upcoming training camp. And there is a little bit of a standard and it’s kind of high, and so that’s OK.”
New Orleans officially reports to camp July 27 at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center in Metairie, La. Other than Brees, most of the key Saints are back, led by star running back Alvin Kamara and All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas. He was the 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year but injuries really hampered him last year. Thomas’ yards-per-game average dropped from 107.8 to 62.6 year-over-year.
Kamara is one of three NFL players with at least 80 receptions in his first four seasons in the NFL, joining two receivers — teammate Thomas and Jarvis Landry — in the exclusive club. His 711 yards after the catch led all NFL players.
Defensively, the Saints have one of the league’s best cornerbacks in Marshon Lattimore is a lock, but it remains to be seen who will line up opposite the 25-year-old standout. Free agent Richard Sherman was a possibility but was arrested in Seattle on Wednesday so that may end that pursuit.
The Saints open the post-Brees era against the visiting Green Bay Packers on Sept. 12 with New Orleans an early 2.5-point favorite on the NFL odds.
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