Perhaps the most surprising NFL coaching opening of the offseason happened in New Orleans. Just one season after future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees retired, the coach who guided Brees and the Saints to by far the most successful period in franchise history stepped down.
Sean Payton coached the Saints for 16 seasons, compiling a 152-89 record and winning a Super Bowl with a franchise that had just one playoff win in its history before Payton and Brees arrived on the scene.
It is unclear what Payton’s immediate future will be. He made it clear when he resigned that he was stepping away, but didn’t use the word “retire,” so if he does decide to coach again, his long track record of success would make him a hot commodity. In fact, there is already one logical destination for him.
Payton has long been linked to the Dallas Cowboys, and the team’s poor playoff performance this season didn’t exactly earn Mike McCarthy much job security even if he received a vote of confidence from Jerry Jones after the season. Payton has long been an object of Jones’ affection, so if the Cowboys don’t live up to expectations again, expect a lot of Payton rumors to emerge.
The Saints just barely missed the playoffs this season, and they have several star players at key positions. Keeping some continuity seemed to be a priority, so the team hired Payton’s defensive coordinator Dennis Allen for the job.
Allen has previous head coaching experience with the Oakland Raiders, but that did not go well. He was 8-28 as head coach and was fired four games into his third season with the team.
He’d been the defensive coordinator in New Orleans since 2015, and the team’s defense has been remarkably good and consistent during that stretch. His challenge will be maintaining that while figuring out what to do with the offense. As of now, not much is expected of the 2022 Saints, whose Super Bowl futures odds sit at +4000. Here are three key questions for the Saints as Allen takes over.
Who will be the quarterback?
For the first time in more than a decade, the Saints couldn’t count on elite quarterback play last season. The team still finished 9-8 and nearly made the playoffs. Jameis Winston threw 14 touchdown passes with just three interceptions, but he completed just 59 percent of his passes and played in only seven games due to injury.
Replacements Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian also struggled with accuracy, although Siemian did throw 11 touchdown passes in six games. Winston was retained, and Andy Dalton was signed to back him up, but an even more intriguing name emerged. Rumors swirled that Brees may be willing to come out of retirement, but when he had shoulder surgery earlier this spring, those rumors seemed to cool down.
If Winston can stay healthy, he gives the team the best chance of winning in the short-term. But in the long-term, the team’s quarterback situation is still far from settled.
Can one star safety replace another?
A key part of their successful defense the past five seasons has been safety Marcus Williams. Williams was hit with the franchise tag last season, then went out and had another great season. The team tried to reach a long-term deal with him, but he ultimately signed with Baltimore.
The Saints did add some star power to replace him, though. Former Chiefs star Tyrann Mathieu joins the team and New Orleans hopes he can make a similar impact on the defense. Mathieu is much older than Williams, but he’s still a major impact player who should keep the defense on track.
What will the offense look like?
Losing Payton and Brees in consecutive seasons means the Saints have lost two masterminds of one of the NFL’s great offenses. They also won’t have offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael back.
Allen represents continuity for the defensive system, but will the team’s offense look dramatically different? Not according to what Allen is saying so far.
“There are maybe a few things we can tweak and do things a little bit differently,” Allen told the Sun Herald. “But I want to be a physical offense; I want to be able to run the football; I want to be able to create explosive plays; I want to be a smart offense that doesn’t have a lot of negative plays; I want to protect the football; and I want to be good situationally.”
The team also added some playmaking in the first round of the draft by selecting former Ohio State receiver Chris Olave. Winston showed that he has the ability to make plays down field, and adding a weapon like Olave should definitely complement Winston’s arm well.