NEW ORLEANS (13-4)
CAMP SITE: Metairie, Louisiana
LAST YEAR: New Orleans posted second straight 13-3 regular season record, tying franchise best, only to lose playoff opener in overtime. Last season was unusual in that Brees injured thumb and missed five games, most he has missed in any season with New Orleans. Yet Saints won all five of those games thanks to combination of strong defense and special teams play, along with steady productivity by then-backup Teddy Bridgewater. When Brees did play, he remained among most accurate and efficient QBs in NFL at age 40. His go-to target was Michael Thomas, whose 149 catches set NFL single-season record and earned him Offensive Player of Year award.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Malcolm Jenkins, FB Michael Burton, DB Deatrick Nicholls, OL Cesar Ruiz, QB Jameis Winston.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Vonn Bell, RG Larry Warford, CB Eli Apple, LB A.J. Klein, QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Keith Kirkwood. WR Ted Ginn Jr.
PANDEMIC CHALLENGES: Coach Sean Payton canceled offseason program and left it up to his team of mostly returning players to show up in shape. Still, without regular access to team training staff all summer, Saints will have to be wary of not risking injury by working veterans too hard too early.
CAMP NEEDS: Sort out interior offensive line after drafting Ruiz in first round at same position as 2019 top draft choice Erik McCoy. Ruiz and McCoy both are expected to start, but one will fill vacancy at RG created by Warford’s release. Find role for rookie LB Zach Baun, drafted in third round. He was strong pass rusher in final season at Wisconsin. Saints hope he has versatility to play other roles. Integrate Sanders into passing game in which Thomas and TE Jared Cook are expected to be top targets, along with versatile RB Alvin Kamara.
EXPECTATIONS: Payton appears to have contender again with most top contributors from last season returning and many of them still in their prime. If 41-year-old Brees continues to play well and secondary coalesces around veteran leader Jenkins, New Orleans should be primed to go deep into playoffs.
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