There are changes every year in the NFL, but a few things we have come to count on.
Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Sean Payton’s one of the most creative offensive minds, and the Saints defense continues to serve as the anchor for both, dragging them to the bottom of the division.
They made significant changes this offseason, but not enough to fix a defense that needed help at every level.
It’s a risky bet, fiddling with the one things they can more or less count on. But the Saints have to evolve if they want to keep up with the Falcons and Buccaneers and Panthers, who each in their own way create offensive matchup problems.
The Saints have more issues on the other side of the ball than the rest of their division, which probably leaves them as the clear fourth of four.
Biggest positive change: They continued to bring in reinforcements for what has been a historically bad defense. Getting inside linebacker A.J. Klein away from the Panthers could be a good piece of business, and drafting cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams could lend immediate benefits. Mixing in linebacker Manti Te’o provides some quality depth which they have lacked.
They have a long way to go before they can be considered mediocre, but they’re at least on the road toward something other than awful.
Biggest negative change: The Saints cut bait on historical free agent bust Jairus Byrd, but their biggest problems were not related to personnel transactions.
Between the heart issue that will keep defensive tackle Nick Fairley out for the season and possibly be career-ending, and the torn labrum suffered by left tackle Terron Armstead, the Saints took two major blows.
The bigger concern with Fairley is obviously his health, but Armstead’s condition will have a major impact on what they want to do on the field.
Protecting Brees is their biggest priority, and now it will be in the hands of first-rounder Ryan Ramcyzk. Oh, by the way, center Max Unger is coming off foot surgery and isn’t expected to be ready until the start of the regular season. That’s practically the good news here.
Coaching thermometer: Cool, as long as Payton wants it to be that way. He just signed a lucrative extension last year, but the constant chatter about his next job exists for some reason. He’s got the run of the place for the time being, and other than Brees, it’s easy to argue he’s their most valuable asset.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . It would be kind of fun to put some truth serum in Mark Ingram. Ostensibly the lead running back going into the offseason, he got a former MVP dropped into his meeting room and now has to adjust. He’s said all the right things so far, and the two of them could make an intriguing tandem if they use them that way. But it’s also easy to wonder how the job-share will work, and whether everyone will still be happy about it by the end of the year. Ingram had done enough to seemingly be trusted, so hearing his thoughts on the team’s future and his own would be interesting.
How they can prove us wrong: They can still score with anyone. Adding Peterson to the offense lends a different element (I mean, as long as Peterson’s healthy and anything like his pre-knee injury form). Michael Thomas emerged as enough of a receiving threat that they were willing to flip Cooks, and backfilling with Ted Ginn helps keep them fast.
But there are some very good offenses around them in their own division, so winning shootouts is far from a sure thing. That defense will have to improve more than a defense which didn’t add a pass-rusher might be able to for them to make up ground.