'We've been our own worst enemy:' Saints not giving up with division up for grabs

New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton, who was starting in place of the injured Jameis Winston, reacts after throwing his second interception that was returned for a touchdown. Matt York/AP

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints admit most of the players on their roster haven't been in this position before.

Record-wise, the Saints (2-5) haven't been in an early season hole this deep since they started the 2016 season at 2-4 before finishing 7-9 and missing the playoffs. They didn't get another real taste of what prolonged losing was like until a five-game streak last season dropped them from 5-2 to 5-7. They finished 9-8 and barely missed the playoffs.

But they're not giving up now.

"It's no secret we're not where we want to be right now," linebacker Demario Davis said. "At this point in the season, we're not where any of us expected to be. And a lot of that is due to us not playing at the standard we have."

Saints coach Dennis Allen has remained hopeful that the Saints could use their mini-bye following their 42-34 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Thursday to get healthier.

Last week, they played without quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Michael Thomas, tight end Adam Trautman, guard Andrus Peat and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Paulson Adebo. They also lost cornerback Bradley Roby early in the game. (He is now on injured reserve.)

"Obviously the demands of an NFL season is hard physically and mentally on everybody involved" Allen said. "It kind of gave them an opportunity to reset a little bit."

He added: "I don't think I received the, 'Hey, everybody is going to be back' news that I was hoping for, but I do think some progress is being made."

Even if the Saints wanted to look to the future or move players before Tuesday's trade deadline, it would be difficult.

The Saints restructured almost every significant contract on their team to get salary cap compliant and sign free agents in the offseason. According to ESPN's Field Yates, they have about $3.6 million in salary cap space remaining in 2022.

Several players who could be tradeable assets -- like Thomas, Peat and Lattimore -- are hurt. Others, like 33-year-old defensive end Cameron Jordan, have minimum salaries and a large portion of their prorated signing bonuses remaining. (Jordan's base salary was $1.12 million this year and the prorated portion of his signing bonus is $10.7 million.)

That means the Saints would gain minimal cap space in a trade while accounting for their remaining signing bonus in 2023, another offseason where they are positioned to be significantly over the salary cap.

The Saints players aren't even thinking in that direction, however. They are currently 1.5 games back in the NFC South heading into Week 8, and they believe the reasons they've been losing are on themselves.

The Saints have listed their league-worst 16 turnovers as one of the main reasons for their losing record.

"I think everybody understands how bad turnovers are, I think that's pretty obvious," offensive tackle James Hurst said. "If you look at production ... and then look at our record, speaking for the offense, it just really shows how bad those turnovers have been, how timely they've been. ... We know we have to correct them, and we also feel confident in our ability to move the ball and score points. We know none of that matters if we're turning the ball over."

It's why running back Alvin Kamara told them to be accountable in a postgame speech after their loss to the Cardinals, telling the team to "get back to their swagger."

"Adversity creates opportunity. Though none of us want to be in this situation, there's only one mindset that's going to change it, and it's taking advantage of every opportunity," Davis said. "And the reason that's exciting is that all this happened, and we're only one game out. It's also exciting because we understand what's going on. We understand we've been our own worst enemy."