Makes perfect sense, IMO. Does SotS make any mention of New Orleans being designed as a smaller-scale pathfinder for the tech we see later on as the Nebula- and Galaxy-classes?
Partially. It was considered part of the "New Fleet" package that began introduction in the 2330s, alongside designs like the Steamrunner and Challenger. The Galaxy and the Nebula classes both drew design elements from the New Orleans.
Originally, it was assumed that the design wouldn't be active along the frontier and border areas, so it had no torpedo launchers in favor of a larger sensor suite. It was felt that the traditional torpedo systems would take up too much internal space and the trade was acceptable given the peaceful relations, although the decision was controversial in Starfleet. The Cardassian War changed that, and the New Orleans ships in service initially fared badly because of the lack of torpedos. Their systems were otherwise very similar to those on the Ambassador class, and eventually the ASDB found that mounting the bolt-on launchers was a good alternative. It gave the New Orleans the needed punch while also bypassing the problem of internal space. The ships often served in units with Steamrunners against the Cardassians.