METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints just got their first win of 2020.
Drew Brees‘ decision to return for a 20th NFL season ensures that the Saints will remain among this year’s top Super Bowl contenders after three straight years of gut-wrenching playoff exits.
But there are plenty of questions to be answered this offseason for a team that is slammed against the salary cap, starting with how Brees’ return affects their other quarterbacks.
In a perfect world, the Saints would love to keep all three of their quarterbacks. But coach Sean Payton told ESPN’s First Take last month that he thinks it would be “unrealistic” and “very difficult” to do so.
That almost certainly makes Bridgewater the odd man out, since he is an unrestricted free agent and Hill is a restricted free agent. Bridgewater, 27, should draw significant interest on the open market after going 5-0 as New Orleans’ starter in 2019 while Brees was sidelined by a thumb injury.
From NFL Live: Multiple teams expect Teddy Bridgewater to have a strong free agency market as a starting or bridge quarterback for a team in transition. Widely expected to be on the move unless Drew Brees retires.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) February 17, 2020
It remains to be seen if Bridgewater will receive offers worth $20 million or more per season. But he should certainly get more opportunities than he did last year, when his hometown Miami Dolphins were the only team to offer a starting opportunity and he wound up signing a one-year deal in New Orleans worth $7.25 million plus incentives.
Bridgewater was more solid than spectacular in his five starts, averaging 241 passing yards per game. But he completed 69.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns, just two interceptions and a 103.7 passer rating.
And that same formula helped Bridgewater lead the Vikings to the playoffs during his last year as a full-time starter in 2015, when he went 11-5 while averaging 202 passing yards per game with 14 TDs and nine interceptions.
If Brees had retired, the Saints might have wanted to keep Bridgewater as the more proven and experienced option to replace him. But there have been multiple reports suggesting that Payton sees the athletic, versatile Hill as a legitimate franchise quarterback option for the future — despite the fact that he has attempted only 15 career passes, including the playoffs. Now Brees’ return will allow the Saints to keep grooming Hill as a possible successor.
Louis Riddick reacts to Drew Brees returning to the Saints for another season, including what it means for Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill’s futures.
Hill, 29, will be easier for the Saints to retain since he is a restricted free agent. That means the Saints can match any offer he might sign with another team. And depending on the size of New Orleans’ qualifying offer to Hill, teams would have to give up either a first- or second-round draft pick if the Saints don’t match the offer. A first-round tender will likely cost somewhere between $4.5 million and $5 million.
If Hill becomes the No. 2 quarterback, the Saints will have to decide how much they can keep using him in his game-changing role as a read-option QB/RB/WR/TE. He was an absolute monster in their playoff loss to Minnesota, completing a 50-yard pass, running the ball four times for 50 yards and catching two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown.
Chances are, the Saints will continue to use Hill in a similar fashion, since he has become so vital to their offense. But they might back off his special-teams snaps, where he has been a force with blocked punts, fake punt conversions, kickoff returns and coverage tackles. They will definitely make it a priority to add a reliable third quarterback to the mix because of the added risk that Hill could get injured.
What will Brees’ contract look like?
Brees is still an unrestricted free agent himself. But his negotiations shouldn’t be contentious. The last time he was a free agent in 2018, he signed a two-year, $50 million deal that was slightly below market value — with only $27 million guaranteed.
Based on inflation around the league, a similar deal this time around could be worth somewhere between $28 million and $30 million per year. Maybe he’ll take even less if he’s feeling extra generous. But the biggest “hometown benefit” Brees has granted the Saints in recent years is agreeing to just one year’s worth of guaranteed salary so they wouldn’t be hamstrung if he suffered a career-ending injury.
The Saints still have to account for $21.3 million in “dead money” against the salary cap from Brees’ previous contracts. But they will likely find a way to keep pushing those cap costs into future years through their usual creative bookkeeping methods.
Can the Saints afford everyone else?
Up until now, the Saints have used that creative cap management to keep reloading their roster year after year — re-signing core veterans like Michael Thomas, Cameron Jordan and Terron Armstead to lucrative extensions while still adding a few key free agents.
That’s going to get harder and harder now that their spectacular 2017 draft class is eligible for contract extensions. It’s possible that we could see holdouts this offseason from guys like running back Alvin Kamara (one year left on his deal), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (two years left) and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (two years left).
The Saints also need to decide how many of their unrestricted free agents to keep this year (including G Andrus Peat, S Vonn Bell, CB Eli Apple, LB A.J. Klein, DT David Onyemata, CB P.J. Williams and WR Ted Ginn Jr., among others).
And they need to add one or two complementary players to their roster — with a No. 2 receiver among the top priorities.
The good news is that they’re still loaded with talent, even if they do absorb a couple of losses. They had a total of 14 players named to either an Associated Press All-Pro team or the Pro Bowl this past season.
Is this Brees’ last shot?
Brees’ window is closing by the year — not just because of his age, but because the roster may never be this loaded again.
But it’s almost impossible to put an expiration date on Brees because of the way he keeps adapting his game so efficiently. No, he doesn’t throw the deep ball as well as he used to. But he has made up for that by working relentlessly in the offseason to tweak his mechanics and by making good decisions on the field.
Brees just had the two best passer ratings of his career over the last two seasons (116.3 in 2019, 115.7 in 2018). He has the three best completion percentages in NFL history over the past three years (72.0 in 2017, 74.4 in 2018, 74.3 in 2019). And his interception totals over the past three seasons are among the four lowest of his career (eight in 2017, five in 2018, four in 11 games played last year).
Before his disappointing performance in the playoff loss, Brees had one of the best months of his entire career in December, throwing 15 touchdown passes with no turnovers. He set yet another NFL record by completing 29 of 30 passes in a Week 15 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
Brees has long insisted that he thinks he can keep playing at a high level until the age of 45. Until we see him actually walk away or suffer a significant drop-off in performance, it’s hard to discount that possibility.
Ex-Broncos DE Derek Wolfe, Ravens agree to 1-year deal, source says
The addition of Wolfe comes one day after the Ravens were unable to finalize a deal with Michael Brockers. There was an issue with Brockers’ injured ankle, and the sides couldn’t agree on a revised deal, a source said.
Baltimore has made it a priority to reshape its defensive front. The Ravens acquired defensive end Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars, traded defensive end Chris Wormley to the Pittsburgh Steelers and watched defensive tackle Michael Pierce sign with the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.
Wolfe should help improve the pass rush for the Ravens. Baltimore’s defensive linemen totaled four sacks in 2019, the fewest by any team.
Wolfe finished his eighth season with the Broncos in 2019 and was one of the longest-tenured players on the team’s defense; only cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Von Miller have played on the defense longer.
Coach Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme turned out to be perfect for Wolfe as he had one of his best all-around years in 2019 with 34 tackles and a career-best seven sacks. Wolfe has 33 sacks in his career.
Wolfe’s high-motor play has been a key part of the defensive front, and Miller credits Wolfe for many of his sacks “because of what Wolfe does next to me. He’s a beast.”
That intensity has come at a physical price at times, as Wolfe has battled through some injuries throughout his career, including neck surgery. He has played 16 games three times and went to injured reserve this past season after 12 games with a dislocated left elbow.
Wolfe, who turned 30 in February, was a second-round pick by the Broncos in 2012 — the team had traded out of the first round that year — and he immediately started 16 games as a rookie for a team that won the AFC West. He has started every game he played in for the Broncos — 108 in all — and while he hoped to re-sign with the Broncos at season’s end, he added “it’s a business.”
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley and Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.
Bobby Hebert Sr., father of former Saint and Falcon Bobby Hebert Jr., dies from COVID-19
Hebert Jr., a Southern Louisiana native, still works as an analyst for WWL Radio in New Orleans. He and his wife, Jojo, said in a statement that “our hearts are broken” and that Hebert Sr. was “the reason I made it” to the NFL.
Hebert Jr.’s son T-Bob, who played center at LSU, described his grandfather on Twitter as “the wisest, kindest, and most tactful person I have ever known.”
This is my namesake Bobby Hebert Sr
He is the wisest, kindest, and most tactful person I have ever known
He passed this morning and I love him and I will miss him
He loved LSU to his core and instilled that love in me
“Jolie l’lait d’vivre” pic.twitter.com/g484pHIyYz
— T-Bob Hebert (@TBob53) March 28, 2020
Hebert Jr. broke down crying in a recent appearance on WWL while describing his father’s battle with the virus. He described his father as a “fighter” who survived colon cancer, multiple strokes and a birth defect that required open heart surgery.
But, Hebert Jr. said, “You can be tough and the virus can still overwhelm you,” before insisting that people heed the advice of health officials because “it’s an unseen enemy.”
Hebert Jr. also wrote in his statement about the “magic twinkle” in his father’s eye and his lifelong passion for the LSU Tigers.
“I’m kinda numb and shocked,” Hebert Jr. said in the WWL interview. “You get numb and then sometimes you don’t want to accept reality and what you’re dealing with.”
Chiefs re-signing WR DeMarcus Robinson for one year, source says
The Kansas City Chiefs are re-signing wide receiver DeMarcus Robinson to a one-year contract, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Robinson’s production increased each season after cracking the Chiefs’ receiving rotation, going from 21 catches and 212 yards in 2017 to 32 and 449 in 2019. He started 23 games over three seasons, mostly when the Chiefs opened in three- or four-receiver formations.
Robinson, who turns 26 in September, was a fourth-round draft pick in 2016 and played mostly on special teams as a rookie.
His big game with the Chiefs came in Week 2 of last season. With Tyreek Hill out with an injury, Robinson made the most of the opportunity with six catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Raiders.
NFL Network first reported that Robinson was returning to the Chiefs.
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