The 2023-24 New Orleans Saints have been on a roller coaster from the very beginning.
Two straight wins to start the season seemed to be fool’s gold, as it was followed with two straight losses. Then a dominant win in New England was soured with flat losses to Houston and Jacksonville. Another two-game winning streak inspired hoped, only to be followed with a season-long three-game losing skid. Three wins in the last four has kept them alive for a postseason berth, but the inconsistency despite one of the league’s easier schedules has been unsettling and familiar.
The familiarity can be felt in multiple ways. For one, it represents the inconsistency in the franchise that has been felt since the retirement of Drew Brees.
The Saints have not won more than three games in a row since the franchise’s all-time leading passer retired. For reference, Brees’ final four teams all had winning streaks of at least six games at some point throughout the season. Each of those streaks represented a team finding momentum and stacking good performances on top of each other. The recent teams have all failed to do that. Even the times that the Saints had an opportunity to get hot late in the season with a long winning streak, one loss always did them in.
This season, the loss to the Rams has the opportunity to be the demise of playoff hopes once again.
This past offseason saw the Saints make an effort to bring in a quarterback to be the piece the group was missing. Derek Carr signing made plenty of sense for an organization that was bringing back Dennis Allen at head coach and Pete Carmichael at offensive coordinator. In many regards, I think the Carr signing was also a way for the front office to try to identify where their biggest issues were. If the offense struggled with a veteran at quarterback, maybe that would be an easier signal that changes needed to take place elsewhere on the offense. That appears to be the case, as multiple reports have indicated that the Saints may make changes on that side this offseason. However, those same reports indicated that Carr and Allen are likely to return in their roles. While frustrating to many, continuity and longevity have been mainstays in this organization as long as the Benson family have been a part of it. While I would not have scoffed at making changes, I certainly understand the logic of giving this group another go at things if changes are made elsewhere.
Regardless of this weekend’s outcomes, one thing is clear: the franchise has been stuck in neutral for the past three seasons. I understand the fans that are frustrated by the Carr signing, retaining Allen, and the idea that both will likely be back next year. Need a reason for optimism? How about the parallels between this current run and the three consecutive 7-9 seasons that were alluded to? Plenty called for the firing of Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton, and anyone else associated with those 7-9 teams. The group turned things around, largely due to a generational draft class in 2017, and perhaps quite ironically, the drastic improvement of the defense coached by… you guessed it… Dennis Allen. Allen took over as defensive coordinator after Rob Ryan’s firing in 2015 and was a large part of the resurgent 2017 team that went 11-5 and spear-headed the Saints return to consistently contending in the NFC.
Circling back to the title of this column, the 2024 calendar year is pivotal in the direction of the New Orleans Saints franchise. If a 2017-like turnaround is going to take place, it will likely need another draft class that has a similar impact to the one from that season. It likely will require some changes on the offensive coaching staff, and a further commitment to help out an aging defensive core.
It represents a true make-or-break year in the tenure of plenty of the people leading the team. It begins this weekend. But the more important items may take place in April during the NFL Draft, and beyond.
Dawson Eiserloh is the co-host of “RP3, D-Loh & Meche” which is broadcast weekdays (11-1) on ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles — Southwest Louisiana’s Sports Station.