The Saints had a number of holes going into free agency, this much we knew. They filled a big one signing Larry Warford to bolster their interior offensive line. Signing Ted Ginn, Jr. will help the return game and fill a small part of the void left by Cooks being traded. A. J. Klein bolsters linebacker depth and will compete for a starting spot. Getting Nick Fairley back was huge too, of course. So where does that leave the roster going into this new week? Below are the biggest needs, ranked high to low.
Edge pass rusher
Sean Payton clearly stated this was the #1 priority and it has yet to be addressed. In his defense, there’s been nothing exciting on the market given how many edge rushers got franchise tagged. It appears the Saints hope to bolster this through the draft, whether it’s Solomon Thomas, Taco Charlton or Derek Barnett. I would say those are the odds are favorites to be picked at 11. If the Saints pass on those guys at 11 in favor of someone that plays another position, the pressure to pick a pass rusher with each passing pick intensifies. I’d still like to see the Saints add a vet like Chris Long, but this wouldn’t change the draft strategy one bit. The addition of Vic Beasley, Jr. did an enormous amount to help the Falcons win. I really think the Saints could benefit just as much from a double digit sack guy. It’s really the one thing that would help the defense improve in such a way that the team is actually winning more games than they lose.
I hesitated to put this number 2, honestly. The corners right now are Delvin Breaux, P. J. Williams, Damian Swann and Ken Crawley. That’s the top 4. All four, by the way, ended last season on injured reserve. Breaux has been banged up a good bit during his time with the Saints and his injury history is well documented. Williams has had hamstring issues in college and the pros, and he suffered one of the worst concussions I’ve ever seen. He’s played just 2 games in 2 seasons. Swann has played 7 games in 2 seasons, and he might be one concussion away from his career being over. Crawley was a UDFA last year that showed promising signs at times, but overall had a mediocre season. The working assumption here has to be that at least three of these guys are longshots to make it through the season. I really think the Saints need three cornerbacks to compete with these guys. It doesn’t have to be three guys being paid big bucks, but it can’t be UDFA’s either. Ideally it’s a couple vets (one expensive, one cheap), and a draft pick – or maybe 2 draft picks. Corner is a massive, massive hole on the roster. Re-signing Sterling Moore would be the bare minimum right now. If you disagree, consider that the Saints made a play at trading for both Joe Haden and Malcom Butler recently. They also made a huge offer trying to sign Josh Norman. They’ve put a lot of effort trying to land a high ticket cornerback and they haven’t been afraid to put their money where their mouth is. Unfortunately, they’ve come up short every time. But their efforts should tell you how concerned they are about the quality of what they have currently at that position. If the Saints fail to re-sign Moore, it’s time to get really, really concerned. Because then the improvement of this defense will rely on the health of Breaux and the performance of rookies.
This feels less critical if Tim Hightower gets re-signed, but even if he does the need for a satellite back is clear. Travaris Cadet visited with the Jets recently, so he may not be back. This is a role that could definitely be addressed in the draft. Christian McCaffery is the holy grail, but I don’t know how realistic landing him would be with pass rusher and corner as early priorities. Right now the backs on the roster on Mark Ingram, Daniel Lasco and Marcus Murphy. With the addition of Ginn, Murphy’s time with the Saints appears to be nearing an end. So that leaves two roster spots for backs possibly. Perhaps Hightower will have one but I don’t think it’s a given he’ll be back. Even if he’s back, I think the Saints need to give him competition in camp.
Vonn Bell and Kenny Vaccaro are the unquestioned starters. The Saints don’t have to employ their “3 safety look” if the personnel doesn’t demand it. I’m not sure how much that’s a core part of Dennis Allen’s scheme – I believe he employed that 3 safety look mostly out of necessity last year. If the Saints are deeper at corner, they’re probably fine mostly playing Bell and Vaccaro. Still, I could easily seem the Saints drafting a safety with one of their first five picks. If Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker drop to the 11th overall pick, I think they should be under consideration. So they could take a safety early or wait until the 3rd round. A free agent would be nice too, though. Roman Harper and Jamarca Sanford are wild cards to return.
The Saints are in decent shape with Mike Thomas, Willie Snead, Ginn and Brandon Coleman. There’s also some guys that will compete with Jordan Williams-Lambert, Tommylee Lewis, Jake Lampman and Corey Fuller. Receiver is at a pretty good place and it’s not a dire situation, even with Cooks gone. They sounds could be ok doing nothing here, but they may want to get one more promising player to compete.
Like receiver, it’s fine with what they have – but more wouldn’t hurt. Klein, Craig Robertson, Dannell Ellerbe, Stephone Anthony and Nate Stupar have varying degrees of promise. There’s a little depth there and they can probably get 3 decent quality starters out of that group. The Saints apparently tried to set up a meeting with Dont’a Hightower, though, and they just hosted Manti Te’o. So they may get another guy in the mix soon. I don’t view this as critical but the Saints have always had more success in the Sean Payton era with vet linebackers. So maybe adding one more in free agency is the way to go.
I think QB is fine and I don’t really want to see the Saints add anyone else. Drew Brees is still great, I hope he signs a deal that keeps him in New Orleans longer. I’m also comfy with Luke McCown as the backup. I’ve largely given up on Garrett Grayson. Maybe it’s time to draft another prospect high. I just hate that it takes away from using that asset on a defensive player.
Justin Drescher is still a free agent. I noticed the Saints signed a random long snapper long before free agency and I wondered if they viewed him as Drescher’s replacement. His name is Jesse Schmitt and he impressed enough in a workout to get a 2 year deal. Even if the vision is that Schmitt is the guy, though, they can’t go into training camp without giving him competition, can they?
I hesitated to have this on the list. The Saints spent so much on tight end last offseason with long term investments in Coby Fleener, Michael Ho’omanawanui and Josh Hill. The last two spent all or most of the season on IR, though, so maybe competition at this position makes sense. Especially since Fleener underwhelmed last year. The Saints have three guys with nice contracts on the roster, so I can’t seem them burning more assets this year. Maybe next offseason. So I don’t see the Saints signing a guy to a money deal or drafting a guy in the first three rounds, but you can’t fully rule it out.