The first proverbial domino of the NFL offseason is about to fall, with one of the big-name quarterbacks apparently deciding his future home. According to multiple reports Monday morning, free agent quarterback Derek Carr is on the verge of reaching an agreement with the New Orleans Saints to become their next quarterback.
The deal isn't finalized yet, and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis will have to pull off his usual tricks to open up the cap space to sign Carr, but if all goes according to plan, the Saints hope they've found their successor to Drew Brees after a 7-10 season with the Jameis Winston/Andy Dalton combination.
Carr should be an upgrade here, though he certainly isn't the most exciting quarterback any team could land this offseason. What does it mean for the Saints offense? And what kind of fallout will there be for the rest of the FA QB class? Lets' dive in.
Impact on the Saints
Let's start with what the Saints got from the QB position in 2022. The Saints were right around the middle of the pack in terms of passing in 2022, ranking 16th in both passing yards and touchdowns, with Dalton serving mostly as a competent, but nowhere near great, placeholder. He had just four multi-touchdown games in 13 starts with a pretty middling 2.4% touchdown rate. Dalton was, for the most part, fine.
But he wasn't anything more than that. Dalton was just 10 for 36 on passes of 20-plus air yards despite having a very promising downfield receiver in Chris Olave plus the late-developing Rashid Shaheed stretching defenses. Dalton was pretty efficient, completing 66.7% of his passes for 7.6 yards per attempt, and he was, again, middle of the pack in terms of air yards per pass attempt at 7.86.
Carr has a reputation for being a dink-and-dunk type QB, but he definitely wasn't that last season. His air yards per attempt was the fourth highest in the league at 9.13, and he had the fifth-most attempts of at least 20 air yards last season. 12% of his passes traveled at least 20 yards down the field, compared to just 7% for Dalton, and while playing with Davante Adams surely had something to do with that, Carr has been a more effective deep passer than he's gotten credit for over the past few seasons.
Of course, part of the reason Carr was even available to sign with the Saints is because his marriage with Adams didn't quite work out. Carr was an enthusiastic deep passer, but he wasn't necessarily a great one, as he had five interceptions on deep passes, tied for second-most in the league. Adams had another great season, but there were definitely times when he and Carr just couldn't get on the same page, as evidenced by his 55.6% catch rate, his lowest since 2015.
If you put Carr and Dalton's career numbers against each other, they're remarkably similar. Both have averaged 7.1 yards per attempt over more than 4,900 passes, with Dalton actually sporting a slightly higher touchdown rate (4.52% to 4.37%) along with a higher interception rate (2.66% to 1.99%). Dalton's record in playoff games is considerably worse, though we don't actually have a big sample size with either there – though if there's a gap in how they are perceived by the average fan, Dalton's high-profile slip ups are probably the explanation.
Of course, the Saints also clearly see Carr as a pretty sizable upgrade, which is a relevant data point, and one I'm willing to put plenty of weight on. At the very least, Carr is a more trustworthy passer than Dalton, and the Saints should be more willing to put the ball in his hands, which should be a good thing for this offense for Fantasy – Dalton attempted 30 passes or more just three times last season.
Even if Carr isn't necessarily a massive upgrade on a per-pass basis, I'm taking this addition as a sign that the Saints are going to be more willing to throw the ball, and if for no other reason than that, it should be good news for Olave. Beyond that, the impact is a little harder to parse.
Mostly because Olave stands out as far and away the best receiver on this team. With Alvin Kamara's status for the 2023 season currently very much up in the air due to pending legal issues, Olave is the only sure-thing Fantasy-relevant player here.
And he could be a superstar. Olave lived up to the hype as the No. 11 pick in the draft last season, catching 72 of 119 passes for 1,042 yards. His 60.5% catch rate and four touchdowns are a bit disappointing, but he also managed a 14.2-yard average depth of target on a team that, as previously established, wasn't exactly slinging the ball down the field regularly. Olave was sixth in total air yards for the whole league, and he managed that in just 15 games – and he left two of those early with injuries.
Which is all to say, Olave was probably even more impressive than you think, and you were probably already pretty impressed. Adams led the league in total air yards playing mostly with Carr, and while it's unfair to compare Olave to him, I think this move is a clear upgrade for Olave. He'll probably see some regression on his ADoT and potentially on his 25.8% target share in the games he played, but if he manages to sustain either in a more pass-heavy offense, there's a fairly straightforward path to a top-12 WR outcome here.
Olave should be ranked as a top-20 WR in light of this news – he was WR22 for me before it – and he'll be a popular and obvious breakout candidate heading into his second season. After that … there might not be another player worth drafting in most Fantasy leagues currently on this roster.
Shaheed comes the closest after he had 377 yards in his final six games – a near-1,100-yard pace over 17 games. Shaheed showed explosive big-play ability and should see his role grow in year two after he was recovering from a torn ACL as a rookie. He's an upside WR4 worth targeting in the later rounds.
But we don't know if Kamara is going to play in 2023, and even if he does, a suspension seems likely. I'll take a chance on him if the price is cheap enough, but he's more of a No. 2 or even 3 RB right now. Michael Thomas is expected to be released, and Taysom Hill was the No. 16 TE in PPR scoring despite 11 touchdowns, and I have to think we'll see less of that particular gimmick with a more trustworthy QB in town.
Which is to say, it's Olave and then a whole bunch of question marks. Or, really, just one big question mark and then a whole bunch of nothing. The Saints still need to find a way to reload this offseason, and I'd bet on them adding at least one more interesting name at both RB and WR – and whoever the RB ends up being will certainly have a path to legitimate Fantasy relevance in this offense.
Who that ends up being remains to be seen. Olave looks like a potential star, and this move does nothing to dim his prospects. Beyond that, the Saints still have some work to do.
Free Agent QB Fallout
Carr signing with the Saints means there is one less available QB for a team like the Jets to consider. And they were, by all accounts, strongly considering Carr. They just may have been unwilling to pull the trigger on an offer to Carr until they knew what Aaron Rodgers' plans are. This certainly puts more pressure on the Jets to land Rodgers, though it's not clear how much power they actually have to make that happen -- the always mercurial Rodgers is going to make his decision on his time, it seems.
Rodgers, of course, remains the most likely QB to change teams and who might still be a difference maker. Lamar Jackson is the prize of the QB class this offseason, but the Ravens seem exceedingly likely to bring him back, whether that's on the franchise tag or on a long-term extension – whether Jackson would even be willing to play on a one-year deal with the Ravens is a significant question in and of itself.
Rodgers is not actually a free agent, but the Packers are expected to accommodate any trade request he may make – or they'll likely welcome him back with (mostly) open arms if he wants to return. That's the biggest remaining unknown in the QB market, and as Heath Cummings notes in his QB Free Agency Preview on CBSSports.com, there may not be a ton of movement until Rodgers makes his decision.
Heath wrote about Carr, Rodgers, Jackson, Geno Smith, Daniel Jones, and the rest of the QB class heading into free agency Monday, and you should definitely check that out. The rest of this week, the Fantasy Football Today crew will be breaking down the rest of the positions as we preview free agency, and I'll have a full breakdown for you in this newsletter later in the week.
And, if the past few years are any indication, free agency is going to be wild, and it may be almost impossible to actually preview what is going to happen – I mean, who saw Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill getting traded at this point last year? I sure didn't.