I'm not entirely sure what to make of the New Orleans Saints. Sure, Drew Brees is gone, but Brees has been on the decline for a while and in some instances seemed to perhaps be holding the scope of the offense back.
But, then again, it's Drew bleepin' Brees and he is one of the most accomplished and prolific passers in NFL history and he won't be in that huddle anymore. That requires a unique transition and the loss of such a profound leader can be difficult to overcome. … Then you watch some film of Jameis Winston and that big arm, and recall how ever-so-willing he is to push the ball downfield (to a fault). And, Winston did have a year to marinate in this offense and take it all in and grow from that experience. And the dude did lead the league in passing two years ago.
How do you size all of this up?
The Saints have too much talent to be lumped in with the clearly rebuilding franchises, to say nothing of their recent playoff pedigree. They have game-changers, still very much in their prime, on both sides of the ball and one of the most innovative head coaches in the league in Sean Payton. The 2006 NFL Coach of the Year has already displayed that he can implement multiple offenses and concepts at the same time and toggle between the skillset of his quarterbacks, as he did increasingly with Taysom Hill as injuries caught up with Brees in recent years.
Is it possible the Saints actually make serious gains in terms of the offense expanding to all quadrants of the field in 2021? With a more normal(ish) offseason and training camp, could the offense expand in some capacities with Winston handling most of the duties (as I expect to be the outcome of their summer competition)? And, sure, they might expand significantly in interceptions because of a more daring style of attack, with Winston a turnover machine to this point, but I also find myself as intrigued to see this unit develop as I am of any in the NFL. (With Dennis Allen still running the defense, they have a robust template on that side of the ball to stick to.)
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I just can't help but wonder if there is a sweet spot for Winston somewhere between the no-risk-it-no-biscuit, let-it-all-hang-out style of play he displayed under Bruce Arians in his final year in Tampa and the far more tepid, tempo-based short-passing game the Saints adopted in the final years of Brees' career
In 2020, Brees was 14th in yards per attempt (7.54). Just 17 of his attempts traveled 15 yards or more, putting him 28th in the league. Just 28% of his passes went 10 yards or more, putting Brees 30th in the NFL, tucked between Tua Tagovailoa and Nick Mullins (yuck). Meanwhile, a staggering 24.2% of all of Brees's passes were at or behind the line of scrimmage, 29th in the NFL and in the same territory of at-the-end quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Over the last three years, Winston was behind only Aaron Rodgers in terms of percentage of his attempts going 20 yards or more in the air (Winston at 15.1% and Rodgers at 15.5%), while Brees ranks 38th at just 8% (just behind Cam Newton at 8.5%). Quite a dichotomy!
Now, Winston has thrown an interception on a staggering 8.5% of those passes over 20 yards (34th over the past three years), while Brees threw a pick on just 3% of those throws (third best the past three years). Winston never had the kind of run game and screen game that the Saints feature when he was in Tampa, nor did he have as good of a defense. Payton won't have to approach games the way Arians did with Winston, though he knows he has a more willing and able vessel at the helm when they do air it out.
Regardless, this change of QB continues to fascinate me, especially when we see how Payton designs his attack and calls his plays with his next signal-caller. This QB battle could be one of the most significant developments in the NFC, and a crucial factor as to how the playoffs shake out in that conference.
Chandler "I told you so" Jones
Sorry to disappoint those who saw a photo of Jones with JJ Watt that the team tweeted out and thought they could bludgeon my reporting with him. There are problems between this premier pass rusher and this franchise, and everyone there knows it. He is vastly underpaid, and they don't seem to want to give him anything above the $15 million he is set to make. Other teams will gladly take on that deal via trade and pay Jones far closer to what he is worth.
Facts. Reality. Deal with it.
The Cardinals handled this poorly and we'll see if they do the right thing. When asked about the absence of one of the franchise's best players since being acquired from the Patriots five years ago, coach Kliff Kingsbury said: "I'll leave that dialogue between us. Nothing to report there."
Time will tell if or when Jones reports come July. But this has been festering for months and was bound to brew over. Long time coming.
Team owners need to get serious about vaccines
If the NFL wants to truly get all of its workforce vaccinated -- and why the hell wouldn't they? -- then its owners will have to get involved. Getting team's most precious assets as healthy and clear as can be has to be the priority one for a league with so much to gain from a normal season.
Listening to players grouse, grumble and, quite often, sound like brats about this topic is not the kind of running storyline Park Avenue needs right now. I'm old enough to remember guys like Jerry Jones laying down the line and going very public with their thoughts when his players kneeled as the Colin Kaepernick/Donald Trump situation was festering. Many of them are quite willing to get proactive to protect their brands.
Owners are the ultimate authorities of how their teams operate. The league office has some sway, but in many ways these are mini-fiefdoms with a king and/or queen holding pretty much all of the power. They have ways of being very persuasive, whether through incentives or punishments. Try sending your kids to a camp or to school without proof of certain shots. Try getting on a train right now without a mask.
This should be an easy topic for the league to lead on. From the owners on down.