The NFL offseason is always a time to tweak and tinker. Even more so when a team is breaking in a new quarterback.
To that end, the Saints and Derek Carr are getting to know each other this summer. Carr is learning the New Orleans offense. And the Saints are discovering how Carr operates under center.
As Carr goes through the first installment of the offense during offseason workouts, the Saints will tailor their system to the strengths of the veteran quarterback, who they signed out of free agency to a four-year, $150 million contract in March.
For the next few weeks, Saints coaches will try to put Carr’s stamp on the system they've run for the past 17 years. They’ll cull from three sources: plays Carr likes in the existing offense; old ones they can dust off from their archives; and new ones to incorporate from Carr’s days with the Raiders.
It’s an intricate process that will evolve throughout summer workouts and extend into training camp this fall. The Saints conducted similar customizations with Drew Brees in 2006 and Jameis Winston last season.
Fortunately for Carr and the Saints, the transition should be a relatively seamless one. One of the reasons the sides swiped right during their whirlwind courtship was Carr’s affection and comfort with the Saints' offensive scheme.
Carr worked primarily out of West Coast offenses in Las Vegas. Head coaches Jon Gruden and Josh McDaniels ran similar offensive systems to the one the Saints have employed since Sean Payton initially implemented the scheme in 2006. In fact, Payton’s offense was heavily influenced by Gruden from their time together on the Philadelphia Eagles staff in 1997.
To facilitate the transition, the Saints signed two of Carr's old Raiders targets in free agency: wide receiver Bryan Edwards and tight end Foster Moreau. The club also brought in Gruden this week to pick his brain about the offensive transition. The longtime head coach spent much of his time at the Saints facility with Carr and the offensive coaching staff as they orchestrated the early stages of the offensive installation.
Gruden has a unique familiarity with Carr and the Saints' offensive scheme so the move to bring him to campus makes sense. Statistically, Carr enjoyed the best years of his career in his three-plus seasons under Gruden from 2018 to 2021.
“He’s a great fit for us,” Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said of Carr. “We’ll cater to things that he likes as long as it fits with our personnel. The majority of what we’ve done (in New Orleans) he’s had some of that over his career. There’s a lot of similarities.”
The terminology is different in New Orleans. And there are some other minor differences in the Saints' method of operation. But the protection protocols and many of the passing concepts are generally the same.
“I’m used to that family of offense,” Carr said. “It’s all the same drawing, but different words…. It’s just different words mean different things.”
The Saints also plan to let Carr handle the pre-snap protection calls and audibles at the line of scrimmage, something they did extensively throughout Drew Brees’ Hall of Fame tenure. Brees was a master at reading the defense and checking into a favorable play before the snap.
Saints coaches are as excited about Carr’s diagnostic ability at the line of scrimmage as much, if not more, than his arm strength and quick release. All of which should make Carmichael’s life easier as the offensive play-caller.
“That’s something that he’ll be comfortable doing (and) likes to do,” Carmichael said. “From a play-calling standpoint, instead of trying to guess, ‘Are they going to be in this (defensively), you give him an option or two at the line of scrimmage and let him get us in the right play. I think that’s beneficial for us.”
For his part, Carr is eager for the opportunity.
“The way I was taught is if you’re in control, you know where your problems are,” Carr said. “I always want to put us in a good play. And we’ll grow to that — eventually. … A lot of work to do. As we keep building and get comfortable … the more I can put on my shoulders, the more that I can help the team.”
To the untrained eye, the Saints offense should look no different than the one they’ve run the past 17 seasons. The Raiders and Saints offenses are primarily zone-based rushing attacks. Last season, the Raiders employed more three-receiver personnel groupings than the Saints, who featured more two-tight end looks because of injuries at the receiver position. The Saints operated out of the shotgun more often than Carr did with the Raiders. The Raiders ran more play-action passes and used more motion before the snap, two areas the Saints hope to increase this season.
As it did with Brees, the offense will morph to Carr's preferences and the strengths of the Saints' skill position personnel.
"It's a new system, new words, (but) a lot of similarities to things that I grew up on and believe in," Carr said. "It's still a learning curve, but not as big of a curve as it could be in a different system or a different offense."
Saints fans undoubtedly will welcome a new look. Anyone who watched the club's pedestrian attack the last two seasons knows any offensive change is a good change.