NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints were so very close to having a nice boring summer, weren't they?
The Saints were in the home stretch to the start of 2021 training camp where the story was going to be all Jameis and Taysom all the time. Instead over an eight-day stretch, the Saints were unable to get an extension done with franchise-tagged safety Marcus Williams, stand out defensive tackle David Onyemata got suspended for six weeks for using a banned substance, and it was reported Michael Thomas had ankle surgery in June and probably won't return until October.
Ralph's Iron Law of the offseason was proven correct again: “Saints news in July is usually bad news so it's best to have no news at all.”
The Saints enter training camp in a position we haven't experienced in four years - massive uncertainty. The NFL salary cap tightening because of the pandemic meant general manager Mickey Loomis and vice president of football administration Khai Harley had to trim $100 million off the Saints cap. They managed to do so and keep the core still in place that went 49-15 the past four seasons.
The trouble is the 2021 Saints aren't in the 1% of the NFL's elite anymore.
They had the deepest and best roster in the NFL since 2018. The last three years Drew Brees getting hurt, Mark Ingram getting suspended in 2018, or Michael Thomas not scoring a single touchdown in the 2021 regular season couldn't slow their regular-season success. The fact officiating incompetence in 2018, and other assorted bad breaks in the playoffs cost them a second Lombardi trophy doesn't change the fact they built a wrecking ball, which we knew heading into the season was winning double-digit games no matter what for the last three seasons.
The script has flipped in 2021. Instead of needing catastrophes and bad breaks stacked a mile high to ruin our regular season fun, the Saints will need almost everything to go right in 2021 to make a fifth straight playoff appearance.
Prognosis on things going right so far? I like to be optimistic in July so let's say “Less than ideal.”
Did I mention the Saints, even with Onyemata and Thomas, are ridiculously thin at defensive tackle and wide receiver? Don't believe me? Are Josiah Bronson, Jalen Dalton, and James Dalton Saints defensive tackles or characters from the 1980's Patrick Swayze movie classic 'Road House'?
Great Americans know only James Dalton was a character in Road House, but I'm guessing 75% of Saints fans couldn't identify three defensive tackles on the Saints roster without a program or solid internet connection.
Do some of you want to feel OLD? The Saints have a defensive tackle on the roster named Lorenzo Neal Jr, the son of former 1990's Saints fullback Lorenzo Neal.
No Onyemata for 6 weeks means the Saints' fantastic run defense, the foundation of their defensive resurgence the last four years, is in peril. The Saints should sign Geno Atkins, former Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro defensive tackle, so we could potentially have 2 sons of former Saints at defensive tackle since Atkins is the son of former Saints safety Gene Atkins.
Gene Atkins was the Saints safety when I was in high school in 1991. I feel so old now I think I just qualified for Medicare.
The Saints' current defensive tackle depth chart is lottery tickets and prayers, but Michael Thomas deciding to wait until June to have his injured ankle surgically repaired got ESPN's Mina Kimes to call the Saints wide receivers “The worst group in the NFL.”
It's July, so let's just tell ourselves Marquez Callaway was good that one game against Carolina so it'll be fine.
I barely even mentioned for the first time since probably 1983 the Saints have a legitimate quarterback competition. The Saints also have a giant hole at corner after having to release Janoris Jenkins. And they are continuing their 26-year quest to draft an above-average NFL linebacker. Zach Baun and Pete Werner will attempt to be superior to Alex Anzalone's flowing hair and inability to fall on fumbles in the end zone.
I forgot tight end. Adam Trautman and his 15 catches is now the starter.
It hasn't been all bad this summer; Jameis Winston is posting hysterical workout videos on social media featuring towels, dogs, and baseball bats.
This column probably feels more depressing than an Olivia Rodrigo song but the last four years tell us the Saints are really good at football stuff. Sean Payton is still the best play-caller in the NFL and I'm guessing he wants to show the world his brilliance didn't end when Drew Brees exited stage left.
So instead of ending on a downer by saying the 2021 Saints enter training camp with a list of questions longer than an airport's COVID restrictions, let's be upbeat and say the 2021 Saints are filled with all sorts of possibilities.