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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2024 Opponent Preview: New Orleans Saints, Weeks 6 & 18

After losing the NFC South to the Buccaneers on a tiebreaker in 2023, the Saints appear to be all-in again behind veteran QB Derek Carr and a veteran-laden defense


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have begun the three-day minicamp that will put a bow on their offseason program and will soon scatter to the four corners for a final bit of relaxation. As we anticipate the return of action with the start of training camps in July, we're taking a look at each team the Buccaneers are going to face when the regular season arrives. From how those teams fared last year, to what they've done with the roster since, to some as-yet-unanswered questions – we want to get a better feel for what the Bucs will be up against this fall. Today's focus is on the New Orleans Saints, the only team other than the Buccaneers that has won the NFC South in the last six seasons.

2023 Results

After investing heavily in former Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the offseason, the Saints went into 2023 expecting to compete for the division title again, and they were in the running until the last day of the season thanks to a strong stretch run. New Orleans matched the Buccaneers' 9-8 record, but it was Tampa Bay that went on to the postseason (and came within a quarter of reaching its fifth conference championship game) while the Saints missed the playoffs for the third year in a row. The tiebreaking difference was the Bucs' better record in common games.

The Saints got off to a fine start with close wins over Tennessee at home and Carolina on the road. However, they would drop four of their next five decisions, including a lopsided win by the Buccaneers in the Superdome in Week Four. Baker Mayfield lit up the Saints' defense for three touchdowns and the Bucs' defense held Carr and company out of the end zone all afternoon. Through four games, Carr had thrown just two touchdown passes against two interceptions and had been sacked 13 times.

New Orleans got back on track with consecutive quality wins of 38-27 at Indianapolis and 24-17 at home over the Bears. Carr completed more than 70% of his passes in both games and threw a total of four touchdown passes with no interceptions. But the Saints' streaky season flipped back in the other direction with three straight losses sandwiched around a Week 11 bye. Two garbage-time touchdown throws by Jameis Winston made a 27-19 loss in Minnesota look better than it was, and the Falcons put a dent in their division title hopes with a 24-15 in Atlanta punctuated by Jessie Bates' 92-yard pick-six off Carr.

Finally, the aforementioned run of four wins in five weeks put New Orleans back in the hunt. This was not a fluky streak; all four of the Saints' wins came by margins of 10 or more points, with a combined scoring edge of 123-42. That included a Week 17 revenge match with the Bucs in Tampa in which the Saints rode four takeaways to a 23-13 win, holding the home team off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter. With the division still up for grabs on the final weekend of the regular season, the Saints took care of their own business with a 48-17 blowout of the Falcons that featured four Carr touchdown passes and 400 yards of offense. However, the Saints also needed Tampa Bay to lose at Carolina at the same time, and the Buccaneers did not oblige, winning the division with a 9-0 shutout.

In the end, Carr gave the Saints the kind of stat line they expected, completing 68.4% of his passes for 3,878 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 97.7 passer rating. Despite the rough start in protection, the Saints' front line gave Carr time to work, as he was sacked just 31 times and the team finished sixth in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play. Wideout Chris Olave, a 2023 first-round pick, followed up his 1,000-yard rookie campaign with even bigger numbers: 87 catches for 1,123 yards and five touchdowns. Rashid Shaheed proved to be a viable deep threat with five touchdowns and a 15.6-yard per-catch average. Running back Alvin Kamara had the lowest rushing totals of his career with 694 yards but still topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage despite spending the first three games of the season on a suspension. Overall, the Saints fielded the ninth-highest scoring offense, at 23.6 points per game.

The Saints also finished eighth in scoring defense (19.2 points per game), just behind the Buccaneers, and racked up 18 interceptions to tie for the third in the NFL. Veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu had four of those picks and returned one of them for a touchdown; cornerback Paulson Adebo also snared four interceptions. The Saints got their hands on the football frequently despite a low-powered pass rush. The New Orleans defense created just 34 sacks and finished 29th in the league in sacks per pass play. Veteran Cameron Jordan, one of the best pass rushers of the past dozen years, finished with just two QB takedowns, the first time since 2011 that he had fewer than 7.5. Carl Granderson, in his fifth season, picked up some of the slack with a career-best 8.5 sacks. The perennially underrated Demario Davis continued to wreak havoc from the middle of the field with 121 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

2024 Arrivals

In their annual efforts to manage a bloated salary cap figure created by the admirable decision to eschew a rebuild in favor of continuing to compete, the Saints were limited to mostly modest one-year deals in free agency. The biggest swing, though it was only for one year, was a $13 million deal for edge rusher Chase Young, who had been traded from Washington to San Francisco in the middle of 2023. The second-overall pick in the 2020 draft, Young had 7.5 sacks across his two stops last year, matching his total from his Pro Bowl rookie season. Young could push Jordan into a reserve role.

With their offensive line developing holes through a Ryan Ramczyk knee injury that could jeopardize his 2024 season, the struggles of 2022 first-round pick Trevor Penning and the free agency defection of Andrus Peat, the Saints were widely expected to use the 14th overall pick in the draft on a blocker. That is, in fact, what they did, grabbing Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga, who is likely to step in at left tackle. For added flexibility and potential starting options on the line, the Saints also gave one-year deals to Oli Udoh of the Vikings, Shane Lemieux of the Giants and Lucas Patrick of the Bears. Udoh has positional flexibility; he missed most of last year with a quad injury but started 18 games over the previous three seasons and could be an option at left guard.

Despite the departure of Michael Thomas, the Saints didn't add a receiver in the draft until snagging Pitt's Bub Means in the fifth round. However, they did sign some veteran depth at the position, giving a two-year deal to Miami's Cedrick Wilson and a one-year contract to Equanimeous St. Brown, most recently of the Bears. The Saints also added a couple of depth pieces behind Carr, drafting South Carolina's Spencer Rattler in the fifth round and signing the well-traveled Nathan Peterman in March.

The Saints only had one other pick in the first four rounds after taking Fuaga, and they used it to shore up the secondary, snagging Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry in the second round. McKinstry could challenge Paulson Adebo for a starting spot and eventually be a long-term replacement for Marshon Lattimore, who has been the subject of trade rumors. The defense also got a likely starter in free agency when former Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay was signed to a one-year deal. The Saints also spent one of their three fifth-round picks on Texas linebacker Jaylan Ford and gave former Commanders part-time starter Khaleke Hudson a one-year deal.

2024 Departures

As noted earlier, three-time Pro Bowler and long-time Saints fixture at left guard Andrus Peat found a new home in free agency, signing a one-year deal with the Raiders. In addition, James Hurst, a versatile piece the Saints moved all over the line to plug various injury-related holes, announced his retirement after 10 NFL seasons, the last four in New Orleans. Hurst started 46 games over the past three seasons.

The Saints used their two available options to release veteran players with a post-June 1 designation – which allows for a dead cap hit to be spread over two seasons – on Thomas and Winston. Thomas has not yet signed with another team, while Winston quickly hooked on with the Cleveland Browns. New Orleans also released safety Marcus Maye right before the start of free agency, after a season in which the former Jet had played in just seven games due to injury and suspension.

Defensive lineman Malcolm Roach, who started just five games over four seasons in New Orleans, left for a two-year deal in Denver. Other members of the Saints' 2023 defense who moved on included cornerbacks Lonnie Johnson (Houston) and Isaac Yiadom (San Francisco) and outside linebacker Zack Baun (Philadelphia). The offensive line depth signings noted above probably mean the Saints will also not be bringing back free agent blockers Cam Erving, Trai Turner or Max Garcia.

Other Noteworthy Developments

Despite the Saints missing the playoffs in his first two seasons at the helm, Head Coach Dennis Allen remains in place, as does Joe Woods, who was in his first year as the team's defensive coordinator in 2023. However, New Orleans made a change at offensive coordinator, parting ways with Pete Carmichael, who had been on the Saints' staff since 2006, the last 15 years as the coordinator. Replacing Carmichael is Klint Kubiak, most recently as the passing game coordinator for the 49ers. Kubiak also spent the 2021 season as the offensive coordinator for the Vikings.

The Saints' previously-noted efforts to get cap compliant for the new league year involved another round of contract restructuring for high-priced veterans, with base salaries converted into signing bonuses in order to push cap hits down the road. Among the Saints players who agreed to such deals this offseason are Carr, Granderson, Jordan, Ramczyk, Lattimore, center Erik McCoy, defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd and guard Cesar Ruiz.

The Saints did make an effort to retain some of their potential free agents to provide depth, giving new deals to safety Johnathan Abram, nickel back Ugo Amadi and fullback Adam Prentice. In addition, both Mathieu and Davis got new two-year deals that run through the 2025 season.

Because of construction at their team facility, the Saints will be headed west for training camp. As they build an expansive new cafeteria at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, they will get ready for the season at the University of California-Irvine. UC-Irvine is well-equipped to accommodate the Saints after playing host to the Rams' training camp in seven of the last eight summers.

Pressing Questions

How will the offensive line shake out, and will it provide adequate protection for Derek Carr in 2024?

The Saints have long been willing to pour their top draft assets into their protection unit, taking offensive linemen in the first round or with their first-overall pick in 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2022, and usually finding long-term starters along the way. They took another swing this spring with Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga at number 14 overall, getting a big, strong and well-balanced blocker who is very likely to start somewhere on the line as a rookie. He played right tackle the past two seasons at OSU but started out at left tackle at the Saints' rookie minicamp.

If Fuaga does indeed lock down the left tackle spot, does that mean 2022 first-rounder Trevor Penning will slide into the right tackle spot. The Saints may need a replacement there, too, if the knee injury that Ryan Ramczyk first suffered in 2021 continues to be a lingering issue. At the end of the 2023 season, Ramczyk expressed his hope that he would be ready to go by the start of 2024 but did admit that his health would factor into whether or not he played this season. Penning was supposed to be Terron Armstead's successor at left tackle but he struggled to start the 2023 season and was eventually benched. As noted above, the Saints no longer have the retired James Hurst to plug into whatever position had a vacancy.

Erik McCoy, a 2019 second-rounder, is set at center, as is 2020 first-rounder Cesar Ruiz at right guard. Fuaga likely takes up one of the other three spots, but how will it all be arranged. Is veteran part-time starter Oli Udoh, a free agent acquisition, the front-runner to start at left guard in place of the departed Andrus Peat? Can Penning thrive in a new spot or will Ramczyk make that a moot point by returning to action and his previous Pro Bowl form? The Saints gave Derek Carr relatively good protection in 2023, but they will have to answer a handful of questions before they know if they will be able to do so again in 2024.

Can the duo of Carl Granderson and Chase Young give the Saints defense the pressure it needs coming off the edge?

Cameron Jordan has 117.5 career sacks, has been to eight Pro Bowls and was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s. He will likely end up with a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and maybe he has a couple big sack seasons left in him after being slowed by an ankle injury in 2023. However, given his age (35 by the start of training camp) and his total of 2.0 sacks last season, the Saints may move him to a reserve role following the free agency acquisition of former second-overall pick Chase Young.

Young had 7.5 sacks between the Commanders and the 49ers last year, the same total he had as a rookie in Washington in 2020. The former Ohio State star won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors that season and seemed primed to be one of the most disruptive pass-rushers in the league for years. However, he missed 22 games over the next two seasons and only generated 1.5 sacks in the 12 games in which he did play. He should be motivated to regain his top form after signing just a one-year deal with the Saints.

Young could start opposite Carl Granderson, a former undrafted free agent who blossomed in 2023 in his first opportunity to be an every-game starter. His 8.5 sacks were a career high and led the team, and he was also credited with 20 quarterback hits. Granderson didn't come out of nowhere, as he had 5.0 sacks in 2020 and 5.5 in 2022 in rotational roles, so the Saints can reasonably anticipate that he can duplicate or exceed his 2023 output.

The Saints' edge rush depth took a hit in late May when Tanoh Kpassagnon suffered an Achilles tendon tear that will sideline him for some or all of the upcoming season. However, they spent a first-round pick on Payton Turner in 2021 and a second-rounder on Isaiah Foskey in 2023, and could hope that one or both is ready to be a bigger part of the edge rotation. Still, how effective the Saints are off the edges will probably come down to how productive Young and Granderson are.

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