The New Orleans Saints have kicked off 2023 free agency by fulfilling their primary requirement through a deal to acquire Derek Carr, the ex-quarterback of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The move is a significant one for Saints coach Dennis Allen as it reunites him with the quarterback he had picked in 2014 during his time with the Raiders. This signing is expected to have significant implications for the Saints’ offense and could serve as the catalyst for other potential moves, including the team’s plans for quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Why did the Saints make this decision?
The New Orleans Saints have struggled to find their footing on offense since quarterback Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season. The team has seen a significant decline in scoring, plummeting from a top-five scoring offense in 2020 to 19th in the past two years. Despite having tried several quarterbacks, including Winston, Taysom Hill, and Andy Dalton, the Saints have been unable to find a long-term solution. With the 29th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, it was unlikely they would find the answer they were looking for. However, the Saints recognized a golden opportunity to acquire one of the top quarterbacks on the market in Derek Carr, who has a good working relationship with Saints coach, Dennis Allen.
Carr has always spoken highly of Allen, who drafted and coached him during his time with the Raiders. Carr’s familiarity with Allen made him a prime candidate for the Saints, who were looking to acquire a new quarterback. In an interview before the Saints’ game against the Raiders last season, Carr spoke fondly of Allen, saying that they have a great relationship that has continued to this day. The Saints’ acquisition of Carr now means they can shift their focus to adding other offensive players in the upcoming draft, secure in the knowledge that they have a quarterback who can take charge of the offense.
What exactly does this mean for Jameis Winston?
Winston’s future with the Saints looks bleak as he’s been sidelined multiple times and is set to earn $12.8 million in 2023, with $5.8 million becoming guaranteed on March 19. It’s unlikely that he’d be willing to take a pay cut to be a backup for Carr, and it’s more probable that he’ll pursue a starting job with another team. If he departs, the Saints may attempt to re-sign Dalton as a backup
Is this a move that elevates the Saints to the top of the NFC South?
Last season’s NFC South was marked by mediocrity, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers barely edging out the other teams to win the division with an 8-9 record. Now that quarterback Tom Brady has retired from Tampa, the division seems up for grabs. The New Orleans Saints are in a prime position to take the lead, especially with the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers both figuring out their quarterback situations, with the latter team also having a new head coach. If the Saints’ defense can replicate its performance from the latter half of last season, then the team could return to the top-tier form that it displayed from 2017 to 2020, which fans have become accustomed to.
Why did the Raiders decide to release Carr?
Despite Carr’s previous statement of “probably” retiring if not playing for the Raiders, the decision for him to leave was inevitable. General Manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels had benched him in the last two games of the season to prevent injury, and this proved to be the final nail in the coffin.
The team did not want to risk being on the hook for $40 million-plus for 2023 if Carr were to sustain an injury during their watch. Additionally, after a lackluster 2022 season, it was simply time for Carr to move on. He wanted to leave on his own terms, and his first year in a new offensive system was consistent with his traditional struggles in this area. With a completion percentage of 60.8%, the lowest since his rookie season, and 14 interceptions, tied for a career-high, Carr’s performance was subpar.
He threw for 3,522 passing yards, the third-lowest in his nine-year career, and struggled during the Saints game, where he failed to cross the 50-yard line at the Superdome and threw for 101 yards. Although Carr holds numerous records in the Raiders franchise history, his many checkdowns and fourth-down throwaway passes frustrated the team. Additionally, his 36 career lost fumbles, 63-79 win-loss record, and lack of playoff wins contributed to the decision for him to retire.
What effect does signing Carr early have on free agency?
The New Orleans Saints plan to sign Carr to a four-year deal, which they will likely backload. The Saints have had to work around the salary cap every offseason for the past decade, but they have managed to make it work by signing players to deals with low first-year salary-cap hits. The cap hits often increase significantly in the second and third years, but the Saints have been able to restructure the contracts at that point. They convert the player’s base salary or built-in roster bonus into a signing bonus to spread out the cap hit and align it with the league’s yearly salary-cap increase.
The Saints intend to use the same strategy with Carr, which will enable them to remain competitive in 2023. However, the Saints had to release several players to free up cap space to sign free agents. Carr will be the most significant addition to the Saints’ roster, which will likely include value signings similar to those they made in 2022 with safeties Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. The Saints need to add receivers, so perhaps the acquisition of Carr will encourage them to make another similar signing. The Saints reworked Thomas’s contract in January, but it remains to be seen whether he will stay or go.
In terms of the salary cap, where do the Saints stand?
The New Orleans Saints have a significant financial challenge to overcome ahead of the 2023 NFL season. They began the offseason well over the anticipated salary cap limit by more than $50 million. The team has already started to restructure some player contracts, but they still need to free up around $18 million to get under the cap. The Saints have several options to achieve this, including releasing quarterback Jameis Winston. However, they have yet to make any changes to the contracts of key players such as Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore, Andrus Peat, and Alvin Kamara.
How will this move affect the rest of the quarterback market?
Jeremy Fowler reports that Derek Carr’s $150 million contract with the New Orleans Saints is expected to set a new benchmark for the quarterback market, potentially influencing the negotiations of other quarterbacks such as Geno Smith and Jimmy Garoppolo. While questions remained about the strength of Carr’s market, the reported deal appears to have been plenty strong. However, Garoppolo may still be considered a backup plan for the Saints, as well as for the New York Jets, if they fail to acquire Aaron Rodgers. Despite the Jets’ interest in Rodgers, the quarterback’s $58.3 million guarantee in 2023 remains an obstacle for interested teams.
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