METAIRIE, La. -- Leave it to the New Orleans Saints to find a way to stay bold and aggressive while in the midst of finally trying to save some salary-cap space.
New Orleans didn’t necessarily “win” Monday’s trade with the Philadelphia Eagles when it comes to most draft value charts. (ESPN’s draft pick value calculator weighed heavily in Philly’s favor, while others were closer to a tie.) But the idea of trading their 2023 first-round draft choice for an extra first-rounder in 2022 makes a lot of sense when you consider the Saints’ current circumstances:
They’re finally trying to show some financial restraint after pushing the salary cap to its limits during the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era and beginning this offseason about $75 million over the cap.
On the flip side, they’ve made it clear they aren’t going into rebuilding mode under new coach Dennis Allen and feel like they remain a serious playoff contender after five straight winning seasons.
So what better way to add premium talent at an affordable price?
The two biggest questions now are whether the Saints plan to package pick Nos. 16 and No. 19 to move up even higher in this year’s draft and whether they might have a quarterback in their sights.
But it’s possible they simply like the idea of double-dipping in the top 20 to surround current quarterback Jameis Winston with some much-needed reinforcements on offense.
Here’s a look at the prime possibilities:
I’m not ranking this as the most likely possibility. But it has to be addressed first because it’s the elephant on every NFL roster -- and especially in New Orleans, where quarterback will remain the top priority until the Saints find Brees’ long-term replacement.
So far, all of the Saints’ moves this offseason have suggested that they don’t intend to draft a quarterback in Round 1. (They pursued a potential blockbuster trade for Deshaun Watson; then they signed the 28-year-old Winston to a two-year contract that includes $21 million in guarantees; then they signed one of the league’s most experienced backups in Andy Dalton.)
And earlier this offseason, general manager Mickey Loomis said it would be “unrealistic” for the Saints to draft a quarterback with the 18th pick or very “expensive” to try to move up far enough to get one.
But if they do covet someone like Liberty’s Malik Willis or Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, they now have two first-round picks in this year’s draft to offer in a potential trade.
This was already the best bet as the Saints’ top draft target -- and now the odds just doubled. Not only is wide receiver the most glaring need on the roster alongside Michael Thomas -- after the Saints finished 32nd in the NFL in passing offense last season -- but ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay called the late teens the “sweet spot” for a team like New Orleans to draft a wideout based on this year’s board.
The Ohio State duo of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, Southern California’s Drake London, Alabama’s Jameson Williams and Arkansas' Treylon Burks are among the top wide receivers who could be available with either of New Orleans’ picks.
It’s still possible the Saints could sign a veteran pass-catcher in free agency so they don’t force themselves to target a specific position in Round 1. But it’s a big enough need that it wouldn’t hurt to do both.
This is another position where the Saints could still potentially add another free agent after losing two starters this offseason (Marcus Williams signed with the Baltimore Ravens and Malcolm Jenkins retired). Otherwise, it’s possible they could consider a move up for the consensus No. 1 safety in this year’s draft class (Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton) or drafting Michigan’s Daxton Hill, among others.
The Saints have reliable veteran James Hurst penciled in as their starting left tackle after they lost standout Terron Armstead to the Miami Dolphins in free agency. But they could potentially upgrade through the draft, especially if Alabama’s Evan Neal, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu or Mississippi State’s Charles Cross falls within a realistic range. Or they could stay put and draft someone like Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning.
This might be more of a long-term need than an immediate need (Cameron Jordan will turn 33 in July, and veterans Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata and Tanoh Kpassagnon are all heading into the final year of their respective contracts). But the Saints could absolutely make room for a dynamic top-20 prospect in their rotation in the short term, as well.