Assessing the 2023 Saints: What went right and what REALLY went wrong
Well that was fast… The 2023-24 New Orleans Saints season wrapped up Sunday afternoon despite a 48-17 thrashing of the Atlanta Falcons. A loss from the Carolina Panthers to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended their division title hopes, and then losses from both the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears booted the Saints out of wildcard contention and ending their season just as they were seemingly playing their best football.
The narrative from the team’s front office in the next few months will undoubtedly be spinning the season as the “next step” highlighting how “close” the team is to contention. Despite a positive 9-8 record, by far Dennis Allen’s best as a head coach, and obvious on field improvement down the stretch of the season, this result may have been one of the worst cases for the short term future of the organization.
Allen made national headlines following Sunday’s game after a controversial final play touchdown led to a heated exchange between Allen and Falcons head coach Arthur Smith. Running up the score on the team’s hated rival Falcons gave the Saints’ head man an opportunity to win over many in the fanbase and sell himself as the guy to lead this franchise going forward. Instead he not only apologized to Smith and the Falcons, but he also threw Jameis Winston and his players under the bus by telling the media that he made the call to get Jamaal Williams a touchdown on the season’s final play instead of running the intended victory kneel.
Winston was asked about the play as well to which he detailed how the team decided they wanted to get Jamaal Williams his first touchdown as a Saint, a crazy realization when you remember he was the NFL’s leader in that stat just a year ago with 17. Many of his past and present Saints teammates took to twitter to defend him speaking to the overwhelmingly positive impact he’s made off the field for the organization’s culture.
This entire story should be a massive red flag for Mickey Loomis and the front office because it is an obvious reflection of the lack of respect Allen has in that locker room. His transparency to the media about the players undermining his order is another troubling sign – and maybe a direct showing of how he has lost the locker room.
The team’s 9-8 2023 record puts Allen at a 24-46 career record as a head coach, and the 2024 Saints will not have the luxury of one of the league’s easiest schedules either.
The NFC South draws the AFC West and NFC East in 2024, and the Saints will get the second place finisher in both the NFC and AFC North in the Packers and Browns. If the team approaches ’24 the same way they approach ’23, there is almost no chance they will scratch off nine wins. The Saints played eight teams that finished the year above .500 this season – in those games, they faced a double figure deficit in the first half six of those eight games, and that isn’t even counting the 24-3 hole that they were in against the Joshua Dobbs led Vikings. Those starts are directly indicative of a coaching staff getting out schemed time and time again, and necessary changes should be made to correct that this offseason – if not, they are in for a rude awakening next year.
It has already been reported by many sources that Allen is “safe” in New Orleans, but after the Jameis Winston situation from this past weekend – it will be interesting to see if that affects the front office’s impending decision. Nevertheless, all signs point to there being a third year of the Dennis Allen era in New Orleans. If that is the case, there must be change within the staff, and that’s where Pete Carmichael becomes expendable in this conversation. The Saints appear to already be looking into the offensive coordinator market days into the offseason.
A familiar face from last offseason, Jon Gruden seems to be in the cards, as a potential addition to the offensive staff. Gruden brings familiarity with Carr as well as a lot of pedigree and past success levels that don’t exist on the current staff. If Carmichael is indeed fired, it would be foolish to not strongly consider Gruden as a replacement even with the existing controversy that would revolve around that. This move would be the first step in the right direction.
The next step would be revamping the roster’s weakest areas (both lines) with young energy, and that would require getting the draft right.
Many fans are going to point to quarterback in this year’s draft as their most preferred area that they want to be addressed, but it just is not logical to pursue that unless they really fall in love with one of the top guys and want to give up significant draft capital to move into the top three.
However, like it or not, the Saints made a commitment to Carr that will have him with the team through the end of next year because it is not financially feasible ($52.8 million dead cap hit if cut before 2025 offseason) to go another direction as the Saints again attempt to jump through hoops to get under the salary cap yet again in 2024.
Carr’s play down the stretch has to warrant him another opportunity next season given his numbers. Despite a lot of negative moments early on and into the middle parts of the season, the 32-year-old quarterback put together a fairly solid year in 2023.
Carr obviously does not have a very high ceiling, and isn’t on the same tier as the elite players at the position – however, he is undoubtedly not the main “problem” with this team. Their attention should be on athleticism and explosiveness at edge rusher as well as powerful youth on the offensive line first, and there are a few names I would keep an eye in the coming months that fit both descriptions.
- Dallas Turner, Alabama
- Jared Verse, Florida State
- Laiatu Latu, UCLA
- Chop Robinson, Penn State
- Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Penn State
- J.C. Latham, Alabama
- Amarius Mims, Georgia
- Taliese Fuaga, Oregon State
These are all assumed to be in the range of the 14th overall pick held by the Saints, and I am willing to guarantee one of these eight players will be the selection come late April. The team also possess the 45th overall pick via the Sean Payton trade, and this player should also cover one of these two position groups.
Through major scheme change and more youth acquired this offseason, there is a slight chance that they could salvage the Dennis Allen era in New Orleans. However, by the looks of an impending gauntlet 2024 schedule as well as an improving division, things could get much worse before they get better for the Saints. One thing is certain however, fans who are hoping for a complete roster overhaul and organizational rebuild will most definitely have to wait another year before the front office realistically considers that scenario.