METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints will look a little different when they open the 2021 NFL regular season against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 12 in the Caesars Superdome. The Saints finished 2020 with a 12-4 record, atop the NFC South, before losing a divisional-round game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Saints will have at least 10 new starters in Week 1, thanks to Drew Brees’ retirement, an offseason salary-cap purge and a handful of untimely injuries and suspensions. And there is some intrigue about whether they’ll make a change with their No. 2 running back spot as well.
The roster will be cut to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday — but it should keep evolving over the next two weeks as they look to plug holes at cornerback, defensive tackle and tight end with players who become available from other teams.
Here is an initial projection:
There is a good chance the Saints will keep veteran Trevor Siemian around as insurance on either the active roster or practice squad. But Book has looked polished enough as a rookie fourth-round draft pick to be a viable backup option on game days.
There is some intrigue here after coach Sean Payton told ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew that he was leaning toward the undrafted second-year pro Jones as his No. 2 running back. Could that mean a possible trade or release for the veteran Murray, who is due more than $3 million this season? For now, I’ll stick with Murray over cheaper veteran option Devonta Freeman because of Murray’s track record over the past two years. And Washington is on here because he has been a core special teams player.
FULLBACK (1): Alex Armah
One of New Orleans’ few veteran free-agent signings this offseason, the fifth-year pro gets the edge here over converted linebacker Sutton Smith.
I hate to leave Chris Hogan off this list after he has looked so good throughout camp. But I figured the Saints could make a handshake agreement with the veteran — who briefly decided to play in the Premier Lacrosse League before coming back to football — to either join their practice squad or re-sign to the active roster once Thomas is placed on short-term injured reserve (players have to make the initial 53-man roster to be eligible for short-term IR). Hogan could also potentially make the roster ahead of Montgomery or Humphrey. Young receivers Kawaan Baker and Easop Winston Jr. and recently signed veteran Kevin White are also long-shot roster candidates who could easily wind up on the practice squad.
I chose Wolf over an extra receiver or offensive lineman because of New Orleans’ injury issues at the position. Trautman and Vannett are expected back soon, but it’s unclear if they’ll return in time for Week 1. So there’s a good chance both Wolf and veteran Garrett Griffin could make the initial roster.
Rookie sixth-round draft choice Landon Young was a difficult cut here, but he doesn’t look ready to supplant veteran backups Hurst, Clapp and Sweezy. The Saints should be able to keep him on their practice squad to continue his development. Returning backups Derrick Kelly II and Calvin Throckmorton could also stick on the active roster or practice squad, among other candidates.
David Onyemata is suspended for the first six games of the season, so he won’t count against the initial 53-man roster. But it remains to be seen how the Saints will replace him because one of their leading candidates, Jalen Dalton, just landed on season-ending injured reserve with a triceps injury. The Saints will absolutely take a close look at defensive tackles who become available around the league next week. The good news is that New Orleans’ DE depth looks great for now with the top five names on this list.
Speaking of depth, the Saints are suddenly overloaded at this position after it looked like an area of concern heading into camp. They re-signed Alexander after his impressive recovery from a torn Achilles. Meanwhile, young players, such as Baun, Elliss and Dowell, have been among this summer’s biggest risers. I hate to cut fellow young backups Chase Hansen and Wynton McManis, but there isn’t enough room for all of them.
The Saints could still look to add another cornerback because of depth concerns, especially if Crawley isn’t going to be healthy in time for Week 1.
The Saints will start the season without a kicker! For one day, at least. They’ll place Lutz on IR on Wednesday while he recovers from core muscle surgery. Then they will either re-sign veteran Aldrick Rosas or find a new replacement who comes free from another team.