Starting their year 5-2, the New Orleans Saints appeared primed to make a playoff run before Jameis Winston went down for the season with a torn ACL. Four losses later and the Saints now look more primed for a high draft pick than a spot in the postseason.
It’s not that Winston was performing badly at the time of his injury, but he also didn’t help them take the next step, offensively. Or, at least not in the way a franchise quarterback would, or did with Drew Brees in 2006.
Injuries are always unfortunate and unpredictable and while they might ruin the 2021 season for the Winston-led Saints, their eventual draft position also gives them a better opportunity to improve in 2022.
To be fair, the organization just signed Taysom Hill to a four-year extension, which at least points to the possibility of him taking over at the position long-term. However, if Hill doesn’t show enough over the next six games, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Sean Payton wanted to once again reel in a big fish as he once did with Brees.
Last season we saw Matthew Stafford switch teams, we could see several other high-profile quarterbacks on the move this offseason. With their strong defense, a talented core led by Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas on offense, and a pair of elite offensive tackles, why wouldn’t a great quarterback want to play for Payton in the Superdome?
The Saints could very well run it back with a Winston-Hill combination, but that shouldn’t excite anyone looking to actually win a Super Bowl. Who are some other options to be the New Orleans Saints’ starting quarterback in 2022? Here are five we’ve come up with.
Saints sign Jimmy Garoppolo
Barring a great, late-season run, Jimmy Garoppolo likely won’t be the San Francisco 49ers‘ starting quarterback again in 2022. Although he is currently under contract for next season, the ‘Niners can walk away, with just $1.4 million in dead salary on their payroll. Of course, he could be traded as well, with a team renegotiating his contract amount down from the $27 million he’s currently set to make.
Jimmy Garoppolo stats in 2021: 170-of-254, 66.9% completion rate, 2,112 yards, 12 TD, 5 INT
On paper, Jimmy G’s numbers don’t blow anyone away. But he could appeal to Sean Payton as Garoppolo does a good job of limiting turnovers while putting his team in position to win. A career record of 29-12 shows that Garoppolo is capable of making good decisions and never throwing more than 13 interceptions in any season backs that up.
Granted, Garoppolo’s a safe choice. He shouldn’t excite anyone more than say Winston, Hill, or even gambling on 2021 4th round pick Ian Book. The Saints can likely do better, or at least bring in someone with a higher ceiling.
Drafting and developing Pitt’s Kenny Pickett
If the Saints want to add to their quarterback room by bringing in a young arm with potential, there should be a number of options in the 2022 NFL Draft. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett may stand out to Payton more than a few of the other prospects rumored to be taken in the first two rounds.
Pickett is a super-senior in that he’s played five seasons for the Panthers, spending four full seasons as their starting quarterback. Needless to say, he comes with experience. Pickett might be a bit older than fellow quarterback prospects, he will turn 24 before he takes the NFL field, but the added maturity could bode well for his immediate future in the pros.
Coach Payton may view Pickett as more pro-ready than others he comes across, not to mention, the massive strides the young quarterback took in his final season in college show a true ability to grow and improve. Pickett is an accurate thrower with deceptive mobility. He won’t be confused for a scrambler, Pickett just moves well in the pocket.
If the season ended today, the Saints would pick 11th. With few analysts expecting a quarterback taken in the top-five, Pickett should still be available by the time the Saints are on the clock, even if they ultimately end up picking closer to the late-teens.
Derek Carr provides steady presence Sean Payton seeks
Once again, the Las Vegas Raiders got off to a scalding-hot start to the 2021 season. Derek Carr was seen as a legitimate MVP candidate since he was playing phenomenally. The Raiders had several misfortunes and now could be facing yet another year in which they miss the playoffs.
There is no telling where the franchise turns next after eight seasons from Carr, but zero playoff appearances for the QB. No one would question his standing as a deserving NFL starting quarterback, yet the Raiders seem stuck in the middle of the pack every season with him at the helm. There will undoubtedly be some changes next season, as they look for a new head coach, who knows what else could all be changing.
One possibility is Carr being traded to another team, should the Raiders decide to go in another direction. The Saints would likely be quite interested in trading for Carr as he’s just that, a proven starter.
Right now, Carr leads the NFL with 3,414 passing yards. There’s no reason to believe Carr couldn’t follow in the footsteps of future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees and head to the Big Easy while taking the next step in his pro career. For Carr, that means getting to the playoffs, a place Payton has been in of his 9 of his 14 seasons in the Bayou.
Deshaun Watson picks up where Drew Brees left off
If Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis went to coach Payton as they formulate their offseason plans, giving him the pick of the litter at quarterback, who do you think he would select? Probably none other than Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans. Of course, Watson has an ongoing legal process that may greatly impact his playing career even further.
From a football perspective, Watson is the ultimate dream for any team in need of a franchise quarterback. Mobility is the name of the game when it comes to next-level passers and Watson fits that bill better than anyone in the NFL. An MVP candidate on his own, imagine pairing Watson with Alvin Kamara out of the backfield, with Michael Thomas getting back on the field in 2022? That’s a playoff offense, all the way.
Saints take another QB from Miami, in Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was pretty clear when he mentioned Tua Tagovailoa would be the starting quarterback for the rest of the 2021 season. But what about next year?
If Dolphins owner Stephen Ross still strongly desires a trade for Deshaun Watson, and if the QB still is only willing to waive his no-trade clause for the ‘Fins, then it’s no longer Tua Time in South Beach.
Just as he experienced at Alabama, Tagovailoa has battled several injuries in the NFL, but if there’s one consistent trait, it’s his accuracy. In 2021, 80.4% of Tua’s throws have been “on-target” according to Pro Football Reference. It’s the fourth-most accurate rate in the NFL this season.
Tagovailoa is still just 23 and has plenty of room to grow. It wasn’t long ago that he was seen as one of the best quarterback prospects in football. There’s a good chance Sean Payton was among that group who believed Tua could be special. With all of their struggles at the quarterback position the past few seasons, the idea of adding Tagovailoa probably sounds picturesque for Who Dat nation.