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James Hurst retiring exacerbates Saints’ woeful offensive line

It’s tough to think of a setup worse than the New Orleans Saints’ offensive line right now. Of last year’s five starters, only two are locks to return in their spots for 2024: Pro Bowl center Erik McCoy and right guard Cesar Ruiz.

Left tackle is undecided with the Saints expected to draft competition for Trevor Penning this weekend. Right tackle is an open wound with Ryan Ramczyk facing the very real possibility of a medical retirement. And left guard is now looking worse with James Hurst retiring from pro football.

The Saints need more reinforcements than they can afford with their current draft picks (just two selections inside this year’s top 100) and salary cap space (a little over $8 million). They need to find at least two starting-quality linemen, but three would do a lot to help build confidence in the group.

Look further into their depth chart and you’ll see names like Olisaemeka Udoh (who has played both tackle and guard under new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak), Nick Saldiveri, Landon Young, Mark Evans II, and Tommy Kraemer. No disrespect to those guys but this group isn’t ready to handle 17 games and a playoff run.

Drafting a first-round offensive lineman isn’t enough to get them there, either. Picking a new starting right tackle (like, say, Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga) won’t cure what’s ailing them at left tackle or left guard. The Saints should continue to explore their options later in the draft and in free agency. There are starting-quality linemen still available with experience in the system New Orleans wants to run like Mekhi Becton (who has started at both left and right tackle) and Dalton Risner (a career left guard). They should really look at bringing back Andrus Peat at some point, too, if nothing else than to reinforce the depth chart.

They can patch some holes in the hull, but it feels like a certainty that the Saints will have to set sail with some concerning vulnerabilities and hope for the best. We’ll see how far hope takes them.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire