The New Orleans Saints are entering a crucial and tumultuous offseason. The 9-8 Saints just missed the postseason due to San Francisco's thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18, and must now find a way to upgrade their team while dealing with several concerning issues throughout the organization.
The internet broke on Tuesday afternoon when it was announced that long-time head coach Sean Payton informed the Saints he plans to step down, per Ian Rapoport. Payton allegedly has a lucrative offer to embark on a broadcasting career and could be mulling over the possibility of retirement. Payton departs the Saints as the second-longest tenured head coach in the league, trailing just Bill Belichick, at the time of his exit.
Payton just concluded his 15th season as New Orleans' head coach and what a run it was. The Saints won an astounding 161 games under Payton's watch. The San Mateo, California native possesses a decorated resume that includes a Super Bowl ring (XLIV) and an Associated Press Coach of the Year (2006) honor. Payton was truly the glue that held the Saints together over the years, and his departure stings more than any of the potentially difficult personnel-related decisions that may be made throughout free agency. The Saints are now forced to embark on a delayed head coaching search after several of the top candidates have already begun establishing relationships elsewhere.
In addition to the newfound Payton headache, general manager Mickey Loomis must also navigate a difficult salary cap situation for the second consecutive offseason. The Saints are currently set to enter free agency with a whopping $71 million in the red in relation to the cap. It represents by far the worst cap situation in the league. Several key players are set to witness their current contracts expire, including elite blindside protector Terron Armstead, starting free safety Marcus Williams, and quarterback Jameis Winston, just to name a select few.
Loomis has dealt with similar cap-related issues in the past and consistently found ways to circumvent those problems. Loomis has been a fan of restructuring contracts and adding void years in order to provide immediate cap relief and we'll likely witness similar outcomes in the months ahead. Restructuring the contracts of Marshon Lattimore (who currently owns a team-high cap hit of $27.4 million), Ryan Ramczyk, Taysom Hill, Andrus Peat and Alvin Kamara could clear up north of $50 million in space for 2022. The Saints may continue kicking the can down the road, but they're going to have to pay the piper at some point.
Owner Gayle Benson and Loomis must navigate the difficulties ahead. The Payton news undeniably sent shockwaves throughout the organization and qualifies as a shocking development. Finding a suitable replacement for the shoes Payton leaves behind will prove to be nearly impossible. Coaches that possess the leadership abilities and play-calling brilliance like Payton simply don't grow on trees.
The Saints are littered with issues. The future of several key and role players hangs in the balance. The roster lacks a clear-cut candidate to start at the quarterback position, given Winston's impending free agency. It’s truthfully all bad in New Orleans. Reality has arrived for Saints fans.