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Assessing the Saints’ place in the NFC hierarchy after landing Derek Carr

It was all or nothing for the New Orleans Saints in the pursuit of free agent QB Derek Carr. It was either signing the veteran QB or being prepared to shift their focus on options that may provide less-than-stellar results. On Monday morning, their pursuit of Carr finally ended when it was announced that the Saints had become the front-runner to sign the highly coveted free-agent quarterback. Teams outside of the Saints that were seriously interested in Carr were the New York Jets.

Minutes later, a deal between Carr and the Saints were made. According to reports, Carr signed a four-year contract worth up to $150 million, which includes $100 million in guarantees. Now that Carr is a part of the fold in New Orleans, where do the Saints fit among the hierarchy in the NFC?

Many league analysts expect the conference to be wide open again in 2023. That’s mainly because the production at the quarterback position is not up to par compared to the AFC. With Tom Brady retired right now and the possibility of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers heading over to the AFC, an argument can be made that the Saints can quickly rise to become a top-five team in the NFC. Unless the Falcons go all in for Lamar Jackson, Carr is hands down the top QB in the NFC South right now.

The Buccaneers seem to be taking things easy going into the 2023 campaign. Leonard Fournette is expected to be released, and the team made no attempts to pursue a marquee name at quarterbacks such as Carr or Jackson. Carolina could be in the hunt for pursuing the number one pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport stated that the Panthers were among several teams that could be seriously interested in trading with the Chicago Bears for the coveted number-one overall pick. But the team to keep an eye on is the Atlanta Falcons. They are projected to be among the top five teams in the league regarding significant amounts of cap space to spend once free agency kicks off on March 15. The league tampering period begins on Monday, March 13, at noon ET. Unless a move for Jackson occurs, the Falcons will enter the new league year with second-year QB Desmond Ridder under center.

Even though he presented a small sample size last season, it won’t be easy to know if he is the long-term option for Atlanta. Based on the current landscape, the Saints are in a prime position to take back the division after a two-year hiatus. However, winning the division is one thing, but being mentioned among the NFC’s elite is another. Right now, the best two teams in the NFC are the San Francisco 49ers and the Super Bowl LVII representative, the Philadelphia Eagles. The two teams faced each other in the NFC championship game last season.

While they may be projected as the top two teams in the conference for 2023, they will look slightly different when they step on the field. San Francisco may not have their starting quarterback Brock Purdy at 100 percent after he tore his ulnar collateral ligament during the team’s 31-7 blowout loss against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game. According to The Athletic’s Matt Barrow, Purdy is scheduled for elbow surgery in Dallas this week. The reported recovery time for his surgery is expected to be about six months. With Jimmy Garropolo headed into free agency, that leaves first-round pick Trey Lance as the projected starter.

Like Ridder, Lance has a small size of what he looks like an NFL starter. As for Philadelphia, they are expected a lot of their top players will become unrestricted free agents, and there’s only so much money to go around. Also, the team is preparing to sign quarterback Jalen Hurts on a new deal that could set records for NFL contracts. So where does that leaves the Saints as a premier team in the NFC? If they can effectively address their other issues outside of the QB position, they can potentially become a top-five team in the conference.

Glaring holes were exposed with positions such as defensive tackle, running back, and offensive line last season. Also, mental errors played a significant part in their regression as a team last season as well. But you can expect many of these issues to be addressed through the draft and supplemented by free agency.

Can the Saints Win A Super Bowl With Derek Carr?

Some believe Carr was only signed to keep fans interested and make an occasional appearance but no Super Bowl aspirations. I think it’s premature to determine what Carr’s ceiling will be with New Orleans without seeing how the entire roster will be configured. As for winning a Super Bowl with Carr, many things will have to bounce the Saints’ way to make that happen. For example, take what occurred in 2009, the last time New Orleans hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. The Saints have an opportunistic defense that forced many turnovers, leading to Drew Brees getting the football back.

When you have a defense that can cause turnovers and allow Brees to have a short field, they will win many football games. Another factor to consider is health. In 2009, the Saints’ core players were able to remain healthy for a significant portion of the season. And if they did have injured guys, the players that stepped in contributed. So that’s why it’s not fair to pencil in Carr as a guy that was only signed to sell tickets and an occasional playoff run at the end of the season. While quarterback is the most critical piece to winning a Super Bowl title, there are many other outside factors beyond his control to make aspirations come to pass.

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Meet Derrick Branch, the founder and chief wordsmith at Strike 7 Sports. With a sharp focus on the NFL and the NBA, Derrick's expertise in sports is matched only by his passion for sharing it with others. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from the prestigious University of Arizona Global. Let his insightful and engaging writing take you to the heart of the action.

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