The NFC South has a bit of a quarterback vacuum. The Buccaneers might talk themselves into Kyle Trask and the Falcons might roll with Desmond Ridder, but there are significant additions coming for every single one of these teams after an embarrassing 2022 season saw this division look like the most putrid in football.
The Saints have fired the first salvo. A team that digs out of the largest single cap space hole in the NFL every year to chase a fading dream of consistent contention, New Orleans was well aware that rolling with some combination of Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, and free agent table scraps again in 2023 was probably going to lead to another year of a sub-.500 with an increasingly shaky roster. They’re still digging out of their cap space hole and the larger state of the roster is in question, but they’ve upgraded quarterback by signing Derek Carr.
Just how much of an upgrade—and whether the Saints can be contenders again—remains to be seen. Carr is a soon-to-be 32-year-old quarterback fresh off a solid but unspectacular season that saw him benched by Josh McDaniels’ Raiders and then released to seek his free agent fortunes elsewhere. Part of that is the arrival of McDaniels and clear personality clashes between the two, but Carr has seen his average yards per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio, and completion percentage plummet in the last couple of seasons, putting up some very so-so marks by his standards despite a Pro Bowl alternate nod in 2022.
The Saints are looking at his track record and age and assuming he still has a few good-to-great seasons left in him, and that a change of scenery will help him re-capture, say, the 2020 success where he had a 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. They’ll be able to give him a potentially elite young target in Chris Olave and a solid supporting cast more generally, especially if they hit on draft picks, and there’s little doubt that Carr will be an upgrade over what they’ve trotted out in a post-Brees world.
The question is whether he’s enough of an upgrade, especially in light of where this leaves the New Orleans cap situation. The Saints will have to let quality players leave and will be dependent on finding affordable help and nailing the draft, similar to what the Falcons have relied on the last couple of years, except New Orleans also fancies themselves a forever contender. Carr has to be excellent and the Saints have to absolutely nail this offseason to be more than mildly interesting even in a weakened NFC South, and I will very much enjoy watching this go up in flames if and when it does.
For now, though, we know who one divisional team’s quarterback will be in the coming season, and we’ll see if the annoyingly persistent Saints will remain a thorn in Atlanta’s side or will finally fall by the wayside with Carr under center. I know what I’m hoping for.