NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints are one of many teams that have not found their long-term answer at the quarterback position.
After being spoiled for 16 years with one of the NFL's most decorated quarterbacks in Drew Brees, the team has dealt with nothing short of tumultuousness at the position since Brees' retirement after the 2020 season.
The team has yet to find a clear successor post-Brees. There are many quarterbacks who may be available through free agency or the NFL Draft that the team could pursue.
Winston was slated to be Brees' successor after he was named the starter ahead of the 2021 season. He started the season strong, leading the Saints to a 4-2 record, but suffered an ACL tear in Week 7 that season which derailed what may have been a career resurgence in New Orleans. Winston was again named the starter ahead of the 2022 campaign, but started only three games after suffering a back injury in the season opener that nagged him throughout the season, leading to him being replaced by Andy Dalton.
Winston is the only quarterback the team has under contract ahead of the 2023 season, but belief around the league is that Winston may want to move on from the team after the 2022 season. While those rumors are unconfirmed, his future in New Orleans is uncertain, at best.
After Winston's injury in the 2021 season saw unprecedented amounts of quarterback inconsistency with the likes of Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill and Ian Book at the helm, Dalton, a former starter and Pro Bowl player, was brought in ahead of the 2022 season to serve as Jameis Winston's backup. Dalton was thrusted into the starting role in Week 4 and started the rest of the way, leading the team to an unceremonious 6-8 record. While Dalton finished the season with a career best 66.7% completion rate, he also had a very pedestrian 2,871 yards passing with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Dalton will be an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins in March. It is unclear if Dalton is keen on returning to the Saints, especially if a staff shakeup occurs.
This may be considered a "chaos scenario" for the Saints. Hill is undoubtedly a talented player, but his prospects as a full-time starting quarterback in the NFL have never been high. Hill spent 2022 listed as a tight end on the team's official depth chart, but continued in his typical gadget role for the team, taking snaps on offense at quarterback, running back, and tight end, as well as on special teams as a kick returner and as a gunner on the punt team. Hill finished the season with a total of 12 touchdowns; seven rushing, two receiving, two passing, and one on a fumble return from a blocked punt.
While Hill is under contract with the Saints for 2023, his effectiveness as a utility piece in the offense all but certainly means the team will look elsewhere for their starting quarterback. It is also worth noting that if Hill does become the starting quarterback, his contract gets much more expensive.
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is expected to become either a free agent or trade bait after the team controversially benched him for the final two games of the 2022 season, signifying the probable end of his tenure. Carr was the Raiders' second round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, a selection made by current Saints head coach Dennis Allen while he was the head coach in Oakland. Carr's statistics have been strong, but he's only had two winning seasons out of nine in the league, including a 6-9 record in 2022 before his benching.
Allen was fired four games into Carr's rookie season, but the Draft connection between the two may serve as a catalyst for a possible reunion. If the Saints do choose to pursue Carr, the price tag would be hefty.
Just like Carr, Garoppolo was a second round pick in the 2014 Draft. He served as a backup to Tom Brady in his first season, and started the Patriots' first two games in 2015 after Brady was suspended for his role in the "Deflategate" scandal. He was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and has been with them ever since, leading them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2020.
It was widely expected that Garoppolo would be traded or released ahead of the 2022 season, as the 49ers intended to start and develop their second-year quarterback Trey Lance. He was instead signed to a one-year contract extension, and after Lance suffered a season ending ankle injury in Week 2, Garoppolo was elevated into the starting role once again. Garoppolo then suffered a foot injury in Week 13 which effectively ended his season, opening the door for rookie Brock Purdy to take over as starting quarterback.
As was the case in 2022, it is widely believed that Garoppolo will be a free agent this offseason, more so now since the 49ers now have two young quarterbacks on team-friendly contracts. While his numbers haven't been staggering, Garoppolo has been a consistent winner throughout his career, and pursuing him might be the Saints' most cost friendly option if they are looking to upgrade at the position.
Undoubtedly the most talented quarterback on this list would unsurprisingly come with the biggest price tag. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is slated to become a free agent in March, and while the Saints would salivate at the prospects of putting him in black and gold, the likelihood of that happening is extremely slim.
Jackson will almost definitely be given the franchise tag by the Ravens, meaning that they will have exclusive negotiation privileges with him through at least the 2023 season. Even if the Ravens do decide to part ways with Jackson, his free agent market would include several teams, all of whom would have to offer a yearly salary in the neighborhood of $50 million per year, a price tag that the Saints would struggle to manage given their other salary commitments.
The greatest quarterback of all-time will likely consider a number of options this offseason, ranging anywhere from retirement to returning to his old team, the New England Patriots. A report that surfaced just before the 2020 season kicked off detailed that Brady and the Saints had mutual interest and that he was the team's "contingency plan" had Drew Brees retired before the 2020 season.
While that obviously never materialized, it is unclear if the interest still remains. Much of the interest Brady had in the Saints was due to Sean Payton.
The consensus among NFL draft analysts is that there are three quarterbacks who are definite locks to be first round picks in April's NFL Draft; Alabama's Bryce Young, Kentucky's Will Levis, and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud. Florida's Anthony Richardson and Tennessee's Hendon Hooker may also be first round picks, although both are considered very raw prospects.
In order for the Saints to be in the mix for one of the top three- Young, Levis, or Stroud- it would almost certainly mean acquiring a first round pick. If Sean Payton agrees to terms with the Arizona Cardinals (3rd pick), Carolina Panthers (9th pick), or the Houston Texans (2nd and 12th picks), the Saints would likely receive those picks as compensation, meaning they could potentially select one of those three.
If Payton remains with FOX Sports and doesn't agree to one of the available jobs, or if the Saints don't pull a rabbit out of a hat and acquire a first round pick through other means, then Young, Stroud, and Levis will be off the table. Richardson and Hooker will likely be available in round two, but the consensus is that neither prospect would be ready to play in the NFL right away, meaning the Saints would likely have to find another quarterback to start in the interim.