The Last week and a half of football has been absolutely brutal for the New Orleans Saints and their fans. Not only did they lose a heartbreaker against the defending champion Denver Broncos under…dubious…circumstances, but they also lost another one to their division rivals the Carolina Panthers in a game that they very clearly beat themselves. What could have been a springboard to 6-4 and almost a surefire playoff spot has now turned into 4-6 and the Saints are likely staring another 7-9 or 8-8 season down. The question now becomes not only what can they do from this point forward, but what should they do. Below I have my 3 recommendations for how the Saints should approach the rest of the season in my opinion.
1: Bench Armstead
This has absolutely NOTHING to do with performance, it has to do with the future, which is going to be a theme here. Terron Armstead when healthy is one of the 3 best players on the Saints roster without question, but the worst thing for his health in the short and the long term is to keep yo-yo-ing back and forth between being active and inactive. The Saints just signed him to a long term extension, and the emergence of Andrus Peat as a quality football player makes this a move that doesn’t put Drew Brees health in imminent danger.
With that being the case you have to preserve a player like Terron and prevent them from causing problems for themselves, or from hurting their or the team’s future in the long run. Whether he can play in the next week or two doesn’t matter. There is no way he is back to 100%, and he won’t be this season. You don’t necessarily have to put him on IR (which would eliminate him from an unlikely but possible playoff run), but you have to bench him until he’s fully healed. FULLY. Terron will be a major asset to the team long after Drew Brees is gone, and the Saints line has been by far their best when he Andrus and Unger make up the left side of the line. That only happens if Armstead is able to shake his injury issues, and the only thing that will allow for THAT is for him to take some time off.
2: Play Stephone Anthony
As was the case with Armstead this move is more about the Saints future than their present. I’m not in favor of tanking for a better draft pick or any thing ridiculous like that, but I am in favor of force feeding snaps to Anthony if you have to. He needs a chance to make mistakes, and adapt to the speed of the NFL game and the SAM position. Anthony has all the tools he will ever need to be a very good linebacker in the NFL, now is the time to give him a chance to prove he can actually use them. This isn’t forcing a bad player into a spot, its finding out what a player really has in him, and if he can’t become the player they need then you trade him at the end of the year (or cut him if you can’t get a trade). It doesn’t really matter if his issues are due to scheme fit, or talent, or just poor instincts. He’s got 6 games to prove he can be an NFL caliber linebacker for the Saints, and they owe it to him and themselves to give him that chance.
If he’s able to live up to his draft position and raw talent the Saints would be only one piece away from a very deep, and very talented linebacking core. That would mean they are only 2 pieces away from a potentially awesome front 7. The issue with Anthony right now is that there are so many ‘IFS’ with him, and not enough certainties.
Keep things going into next year:
What this refers to is making sure that you keep the assets that have given you value. Players like John Kuhn, Nick Fairely, Willie Snead, Delvin Breaux and Kenny Vacarro need to be retained. The Saints have often been hesitant to hand out extensions early, and because of that they have watched players who they developed and nurtured go on to have success for other teams when they could have been retained earlier at a much lower price. None of the players I listed above are in danger of being a bust, and 3 of them are burgeoning stars who are on the cusp of emerging. They can pay them now, and save a great deal of money in the future while helping to lockup players who have become part of the teams young core, or they can risk losing them because Mickey likes to fight over every cent. Smart teams lock up young players who produce early rather than later because it both helps build the talent on the roster, but also because it preserves the cap so that it can be used intelligently.
The Saints need to get ahead of the curve, not behind it. Drew Brees is going to be here for two more years, and they can and should do everything conceivably possible to ensure they preserve every chance at contending in those two years. However, they also have to do everything they can to make sure they will field quality teams after Drew is gone. Keeping young talented players at a good price is one of the major keys to doing that, and they need to start now rather than later.