A “conundrum”. As defined by the dictionary and applied to the current quarterback situation for the New Orleans Saints, it’s described as “a difficult problem or question that has no clear-cut answer or solution at that moment”.
And as the 53-year old franchise moves forward into the 2020 NFL Off- Season following yet another heart-breaking loss (for the 3rd straight year), the team is now faced with perhaps the biggest conundrum in its entire existence: which is figuring out which of their QB’s on the current roster should — or especially in the eyes of some ‘Who Dat’ fans — actually deserves to be the starter for next season.
Previously as it’s been well-documented since their 2019 NFL Season ended with a loss at home in the NFC Wild Card game to the Minnesota Vikings (again), ALL THREE Saints QB’s will be Free Agents in the upcoming 2020 NFL Free Agency signing period beginning in early March.
Brees actually will count $21 million against the Black and Gold’s current salary cap for the upcoming 2020 Season, regardless if he decides to come back and continue playing at age 41 under a new contract, or if he decides to retire; which as of now seems unlikely as the future Hall of Famer appears to be committed to playing what would be his 20th season in the League.
Meanwhile, back-up #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater — who made a name for himself while leading the team to an undefeated record (5-0) while Brees was out of action with a torn thumb ligament — is expected to be the #1 rated QB in the Free Agency market, and it will cost whichever NFL team that signs him (the Saints are likely to still make him a fair offer) a substantial amount of money.
You can’t tell the story of the #Saints 2019 season without Teddy Bridgewater, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that you can’t tell Teddy’s story without New Orleans.
— Luke Johnson (@ByLukeJohnson) January 4, 2020
However, jack-of-all-trades, special teams stand-out and 3rd string QB Taysom Hill is a restricted free agent; and he is expected to return for another season at least, assuming of course that the team tenders him a qualifying offer under the guidelines of restricted free agency as expected.
So naturally, the #1 question on the minds on most Saints fans at the moment is: who should the team make the starter for the 2020 Season, given how everything has transpired over the last few months?
Brees of course is one of the greatest players EVER at his position in the entire history of the League; and despite his missing 5 games during the recently-completed 2019 Season due to a torn thumb ligament that he suffered during a loss to the Rams back in Week #2, went (8-3) as the starter while setting more NFL records and finished the season with one of his better years, numbers-wise.
But he also turns age 41 this coming Wednesday — and the whispers (or really more like loud grumblings in the case of some outspoken Saints fans) is that it might finally be time for the team to consider moving on from him — and make the decision to name either Bridgewater or Taysom the brand new starter going into next year.
Then there’s Bridgewater, who at age 27 is now in his “prime” and after Brees was hurt, stepped up “big time” and proved his worth as a legitimate starting NFL QB (the knock on him prior was that he wasn’t capable of playing at that caliber or level); and led the franchise to impressive wins over fellow NFC Playoff contenders Seattle, Dallas, and Chicago.
But he is also an unrestricted free agent now that the season is over; and it won’t be cheap at all financially if Saints management has any plans whatsoever to keep him in NOLA long-term.
Meanwhile, Taysom Hill as a restricted free agent can negotiate with other NFL teams; but the Saints have the right to match any offer that he receives.
For Hill however: he’s made his mark mostly as a superb athlete with incredible physical skills that have allowed him to have a huge impact as a runner and receiver — but there remains some much lingering doubts among many well-known observers and analysts about his capability to effectively guide the offense purely as a passer.
— OnlineLAD (@OnlineLAD) January 5, 2020
So how does Saints management — namely general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton — determine WHO eventually will be their starter in 8 more months from now once early September of 2020 rolls around?
The main consensus at the moment is that Brees will in fact return for the upcoming 2020 Season; but there’s also the notable issue of how much money per year he will want for what likely will be the final contract of his brilliant professional career.
That likelihood of Brees returning for at least one more year, certainly is what will become the “conundrum” for the Saints franchise.
It becomes a conundrum or difficult in the sense that the only way that the Black and Gold could re-sign Bridgewater and keep him around to eventually become the “heir apparent” to Brees heading into the franchise’s future, would be to convince him somehow to take less money than he can potentially earn as a starter with another NFL team.
Teams that most likely could be in the market for a new starting QB in 2020 NFL Free Agency include the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas (formerly Oakland) Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, and the Carolina Panthers. Other teams like the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars could pull the trigger on signing a free agent QB to guide their respective teams, but they also might just decide to stick with their current starters.
Either way, Bridgewater is set to “get paid” no matter where he ends up signing; because he is the #1 starting-caliber QB in this year’s 2020 NFL Free Agent Class.
If the Saints aren’t able to work out a deal and somehow manage to convince Bridgewater to stay in NOLA long-term and take over after Brees retires, then they do have some options — but none of which they’re likely to utilize.
One option would be to place the dreaded “franchise tag” on Bridgewater, which would guarantee Bridgewater approximately more than $24 million for the upcoming 2020 Season.
But such a move by team brass would keep the former University of Louisville star off the open market, and as an added bonus: it also could potentially sweeten the pot for them in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft in April — which would then give them two 1st-round picks (along with their own current one at #24 overall) if another team successfully tried to sign him.
But with the Saints cutting it close by remaining within the parameters of the salary cap, keeping both Brees and Bridgewater together on the roster for this coming year with the amount of money that they’d have to ante up to retain them both, seems highly improbable at this point.
Especially since Bridgewater would likely not be willing to “settle” for $24 million under the franchise tag when he could potentially earn a lot more money on the open market.
The best-case scenario for the Saints in the next few months would be if both Brees and Bridgewater both agreed to return at much-lower salaries underneath what some refer to as a “hometown discount” (with Brees getting $20 million-plus as a starter, while somehow also talking Bridgewater into willingly accept getting somewhere around $10 million-to-$12 million per season as the #2 back-up).
They could then re-sign Taysom Hill on a relatively cheap restricted free agent tender, assuming of course that the soon-to-be 30 year old Hill wants to continue playing for the Black and Gold until a long-term deal for him can eventually be hammered out. Under that scenario, the Saints could actually KEEP ALL 3 QB’s on the roster for next season.
And then of course there’s still the outside chance that the Saints could DRAFT their next starting “franchise QB” in the upcoming 2020 Draft, where names such as Justin Herbert of Oregon and Jake Fromm of the University of Georgia, could repeatedly be linked to the team prior to their eventual selection(s).
Justin Herbert has thrown a pass TD in 34 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the nation 🔥 pic.twitter.com/kIinbavnpw
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 12, 2019
But if you’re a realistic ‘Who Dat’ fan, then you already know that’s probably not going to happen; since the team has had ample opportunities in the past to do so but hasn’t really ever chosen to go in that particular route.
That means for the next several months ahead, Saints fans will have to remain calm and allow Loomis and Payton to figure all of it out. No matter what happens, the Saints HAVE TO put together some sort of a ‘game plan’ and ultimately decide just which one of these three men should (and deserves) be the official starting quarterback under center for the 2020 Season.
That likely won’t be determined until sometime in the middle of the month of March — which is when Saints team brass hopes to have finally have a resolution to their current “QB conundrum”….
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius