Watch the 2023 NFL Draft on Thursday, April 27 at 7 p.m. on WGNO.
NEW ORLEANS (AP/WGNO) — New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis uses the Louisiana Creole French term, ”lagniappe,” when referring to his club’s top pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
The word translates to “bonus,” or “an extra gift.”
In this case, that gift stemmed from former Saints coach Sean Payton’s decision to come out of retirement before his old contract with New Orleans had expired. So, any team wanting to hire Payton had to orchestrate a trade with the Saints for the right to hire him.
The Denver Broncos did, shipping the 29th overall pick to New Orleans, which previously didn’t have a 2023 first-round selection because of a 2022 trade with Philadelphia that brought the Saints a second first-round choice in that year’s draft.
“I don’t think we had any expectations” that Payton would return to coaching this year with a club that could offer the Saints a first-round draft choice, Loomis explained. “So, it’s a little bit of lagniappe, right?”
Whether the Saints use that “bonus” pick or trade it remains to be seen. Whatever happens, it will become part of Payton’s legacy in New Orleans, which includes the franchise’s only Super Bowl title and nine playoff seasons.
New Orleans went 7-10 last season, its first sub.-500 mark since 2016 and second straight season missing the playoffs after four consecutive appearances from 2017 to 2020.
Loomis said free agency — highlighted by the acquisition of quarterback Derek Carr — went well enough that the Saints could draft the best available player, regardless of position.
But Loomis acknowledged the Saints will remain mindful of which position groups could most use help, especially if choosing among several prospects with similar overall grades.
“We all say we want to draft the best player — and we do,” Loomis began. “But more often than not, you get to your spot where you’re picking … and then you say, ‘Ah, this is the position we need.’”
The Saints have eight picks, including the ninth pick in the second round, giving them two picks in the top 40. The Saints also have picks early in the third and fourth rounds, as well as two picks each in the fifth and seventh rounds. The Saints have been decisive about trading up for specific players they wanted in the past, and could do so again.
Free agency saw the departures of several starters or regulars along the defensive line, including end Marcus Davenport, along with tackles David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle.
The Saints reacted by signing defensive tackles Khalen Saunders and Nathan Shepherd, but those moves won’t preclude them from looking for a potential starter on the interior.
The Saints’ top defensive ends are Cameron Jordan, who’ll be 34 years old next season, and Payton Turner, a 2021 first-round pick who has been hampered by injuries and has yet to produce at a first-round level.
So, the Saints could use another edge rusher with starter potential. Depth also is thin at linebacker after loss of Kaden Ellis in free agency.
The Saints have spent two first-round picks and a second-rounder on offensive linemen in three of the past four years. That won’t preclude them from doing so again, but it’s not a glaring need. The Saints also have three tight ends they like, have their starting defensive backfield returning and hope their extension with Michael Thomas — who is hoping to stay healthy for the first time since 2019 — shores up a receiver group also featuring 2022 first-rounder Chris Olave.
Although the Saints brought in power rusher Jamaal Williams, there could be a need for a more versatile player in the backfield. Top running back Alvin Kamara is still in legal trouble in Las Vegas, which could result in his suspension for a considerable portion of the season.
The previous time the Saints drafted a quarterback in the first round was when they picked Archie Manning in 1971. Every other NFL franchise has used a first-rounder on a QB since the 1990s except Dallas, which drafted Troy Aikman in the first round in 1989.
Recently, the Saints hosted Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, who has been projected as a late first-round pick. But with the recent signing of Carr to a multi-year contract, this might not be the year for the Saints to break their 50-year streak of passing on QBs in the first round.
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