Dat’s Davis: It’s Sink or Swim Time for the Saints As COVID-19 Sweeps Locker Room & Team Vies For Playoff Spot

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

What’s worse than having a wave of COVID-19 cases sweep through your entire team? Having TWO waves of COVID-19 cases sweep through your entire team. That appears to be exactly what the New Orleans Saints are dealing with right now. The team plays the New York Jets this Sunday, December 12th, with injuries stacked upon themselves.

Fortunately, for the moment, this wave of COVID is nowhere near as significant as the one the team faced earlier in the season following its upset 38-3 win over the Green Bay Packers. During that time, the Saints not only lost players, but also several coaches & assistant coaches as well. We’ve seen similar significance impact the Arizona Cardinals not too long ago.

How does it differ from today?

Recently, the Saints placed stalwart DE Cameron Jordan on the COVID-19 List as a result of a positive test. Now what’s the status? Well, as of Wednesday, December 8th, RB Mark Ingram is the second Saints player, within 48 hours, to be heading to the COVID-19 List as a result of a positive test. No members of the coaching staff have yet tested positive. Mark Ingram was acquired via a trade from the Houston Texans for a future late round draft pick, to pair him again with star RB Alvin Kamara. Thus, reuniting the infamous “Boom & Zoom.” Ingram has done well in the absence of Kamara, who has been dealing with a nagging knee injury, despite having some persistent injuries himself prior to starting last week against the Cowboys.

One can only hope no further COVID-related surprises spring up in the Saints locker room, at this point. With that being said, not all is lost as of yet.  Reports & rumors say that Alvin Kamara is currently expected to play this Sunday against the Jets, which could bring major relief to the Saints offense.

Furthermore, according to Jeff Nowak & NFL protocols concerning vaccinated players, Cameron Jordan is only out for a minimum of five days, but still has a chance to play in week 14 provided that he logs two negative COVID tests back-to-back.

This is not the situation with pass-rusher Montez Sweat of the Washington Football Team, who reportedly tested positive & is unvaccinated. Sweat is now out for a minimum of ten days. The Saints chances at having a shot at the playoffs hinge completely upon this Sunday, as the team currently sits with a record of 5-7. Even with the losses, the Saints have on both offense & defense, the depth & current starters on the defensive side of the ball still give the Saints the edge when looking on paper in terms of matchups. The Saints must find a way to win, at all costs. 

Let’s look a little deeper at different position groups for the New Orleans Saints that will need to play their best football in order to give the team a chance to come away with a win. Starting with the defensive line… Should Cameron Jordan fail to log two negative tests, thus making him unable to play Sunday, current DE starters would be Carl Granderson & Jaylyn Holmes. Tanoh Kpassagnon still on Injured Reserve, & the status of Marcus Davenport is still up in the air. The fact that Davenport has yet to be placed on the Injured Reserve list gives the team some hope that he will be healthy enough to return to action on Sunday.

This week will be very telling on that particular situation, beginning with Saints practice. There is also 2021 1st-round pick Payton Turner, DE from Houston, who could be designated to return from IR at any moment. No word yet regarding Turner, which isn’t a good sign to begin the new week of football regarding his health.

Also, the Saints waived DT Malcolm Roach, the 2020 UDFA from Texas & one of the better run stuffers for the Saints interior alongside David Onyemata & Shy Tuttle. Roach being waived comes as a surprise to many Saints fans, including myself, but I do expect Roach to clear waivers & then subsequently re-sign back to the Saints practice squad.

Next, the wide receivers, who lest we forget were the biggest question mark of 2021. The Saints waived Kenny Stills yesterday as well as re-signed Kevin White back to its practice squad. Stills was a name that many Saints fans wanted to return, believing that his familiarity with Sean Payton & the type of offense he likes to play would be a significant relief to the younger & inexperienced group of pass catchers. With only five receptions for 64 yards to speak of, along with several key drops on Saints drives to put them in positions to score points deep in opposing red zones (most recently coming in the game against the Dallas Cowboys which led to an athletic interception on the part of Safety Jayron Kearse), it’s safe to say that he fell short of expectations.

There is also Deonte Harris, who is now serving his three-game suspension for his DUI arrest this offseason, and having failed his attempted appeal. With two receiver spots open on the Saints active roster, expect Kevin White to be called up from the practice squad. Potentially even 2021 seventh-round pick Kawaan Baker could join in.

Lastly, the offensive line. Coming into this year, the line was regarded as a major strength, with good reason of course. Currently, the Saints are one of few teams that have had several different personnel groupings on the offensive line. With their two best offensive tackles, Terron Armstead & Ryan Ramczyk, both riddled with injuries, LG Andrus Peat out of the year with a season-ending pectoral injury, and rookie OT Landon Young out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury, they’ve had to go in yet another direction.

The team is playing OL James Hurst, Davis Mills, and Will Clapp all over the line. The Jets defensive line also has its share of injuries as well, such as Carl Lawson for example, but it does have a familiar face on its interior to watch out for: former Saints DT Sheldon Rankins, who did not practice today with a knee injury. There is also former Saints DB/ST Captain Justin Hardee to account for. 

In terms of its playoffs future, it’s sink or swim time for the Saints.