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ESPN says the Saints still have a major roster hole ahead of 2024 draft

It’s hardly a surprise to see someone suggesting the New Orleans Saints aren’t good enough at offensive tackle — watching any of their games from last season will give them all the proof they need to back that statement up. Still, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell took a deeper dive than most in exploring why this is such a problem, and how the Saints can clean it up.

The good news is that the Saints have just one outgoing free agent at the position, and it shouldn’t be hard to re-sign them; the question is whether Andrus Peat will agree to return to New Orleans at a price point that makes sense for the team, or if he’ll try to find a better offer in free agency. Barnwell says that’s the easiest solution for their problem at left tackle, where Trevor Penning hasn’t met expectations.

But James Hurst had a rough year at left guard and Ryan Ramczyk’s degenerative knee condition makes leaning on him tricky. So far, the team has only added Oli Udoh, one of first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak’s former players on the Minnesota Vikings. Here’s how Barnwell laid it out:

Hurst and Ramczyk took pay cuts to stay as opposed to the sort of classic contract restructures the Saints use in which they pay a player in full but spread the money over five seasons. The only addition they have made on the edge is Udoh, who had served as a utility lineman for the Vikings before tearing his quadriceps muscle in September and missing most of the 2023 season. He’s more likely a replacement for Hurst as the swing lineman (with Hurst penciled in as the full-time left guard) than a potential starting tackle. Landon Young, who took over for Ramczyk in December before getting injured himself, is also on the roster.

Young was less-than-impressive when stepping in for Ramczyk, and he suffered his own injury that sidelined him for the last two weeks of the season; veteran backup Cameron Erving (an unsigned free agent, at the moment) came up from the practice squad to take his place. If nothing else, the Saints need more depth than they worked with a year ago. Signing Peat could achieve that but the Saints could have already brought him back if they viewed him as a priority. Head coach Dennis Allen has left the door open for a reunion but it doesn’t sound very likely.

So what’s the best path forward? Again, Barnwell argues, re-signing Peat could make the most sense. But it’s not the only option. Here’s what he proposes with the 2024 NFL draft on the horizon:

It would have made sense to agree to a deal with Peat before the start of the new league year to mitigate the dead money on his deal, but the Saints might have been more optimistic then about Ramczyk’s chances of being healthy. Peat’s market hasn’t developed, and there aren’t many other players left in free agency with a track record of playing left tackle. David Bakhtiari and Mekhi Becton have significant injury histories, and Peat might have been better than Charles Leno and Donovan Smith a year ago. Reuniting with Peat would also afford New Orleans the flexibility of moving Hurst to left tackle and bumping Peat back inside to guard.

The Saints also have the 14th overall pick and could use that on a tackle prospect, but would there be any hesitation on their end after seemingly swinging and missing on Penning? This organization has used five first- or second-round picks on offensive linemen going back to Peat’s selection in 2015, and while that’s a perfectly reasonable way to build a football team, they have needs elsewhere that they can’t fill with high-end veterans in free agency. At the same time, if they’ve given up on Penning and Ramczyk can’t play, they might need to re-sign Peat and use their top pick on an offensive lineman.

The Saints have invested a ton of draft capital into their offensive line over the years and going back to that well might be their best path forward. We’ll have to see if they make any more additions in free agency over the next month, or if they’re counting on one of their early-round picks (at Nos. 14 and 45 overall) to cure what ails them.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire