Disappointing seasons often lead to sweeping changes in the NFL, especially when that season began with championship aspirations, which is the case for the New Orleans Saints.
Going into last year, the Saints were many people's tip for the Super Bowl. Six months and 9 losses on and fans in Louisiana will be wondering what happened.
On top of all that, the Saints sit $22.2M over the projected $143M salary cap and have just over a week to rectify that.
Coaching staff alterations have already been made, despite the name many expected to see in the headlines, Rob Ryan, keeping his job for another year at least.
Next is the playing staff, an underachieving group in a locker room that Head Coach, Sean Payton openly admits lacks leadership. Here are some of the Saints’ priorities for this off-season.
With $109M tied up in their top-10 players, Micky Loomis might need to look into restructuring some of the heftier contracts in-house. Headlining that group is Drew Brees, whose contract is set to take a $26.4M size chunk out of the Saints cap this year.
Brees is undoubtedly still a top talent, but to that extent? Bad interceptions and some questionable decisions in close games are not relative to the former Super Bowl MVP in his prime. The Saints will surely look to Brees to do what Tom Brady has in New England, in taking less money in order to help the team.
Elsewhere, over $20M will be spent on guards, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, both of whom were poor last season, perhaps a sign of regression with both over the age of 30. Marques Colston also saw record lows in almost every stat this past year, with young receivers, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks taking over the offense. Yet Colston is also set to make almost $10M.
Other potential victims to the cap issue include David Hawthorne and Brodrick Bunkley.
The draft is massive for the Saints this year, with help needed and most likely not much money to find it with.
Pass rush is the obvious area Payton and co will look to improve, with a stacked class of outside linebackers coming out. The best of which, in my opinion, is Dante Fowler who, since his stellar combine performance, will likely be taken by the time the Saints pick at 13. So unless the Saints trade up, look for one of Alvin Dupree or Shane Ray to suit up in black and gold next year.
In the latter rounds, the Saints could do with offensive line cover and help in the secondary above all else.
Free agency will really mould how the draft goes for the Saints this year, with little money to spend - don’t expect a big splash like that on Jairus Byrd (who will eventually prove his worth) last season. Expect them to go after cheaper options at corner to play alongside Keenan Lewis as top priority.
The Mark Ingram situation will prove huge this off-season, with an ageing Brees needing a run game, now more than ever. The Saints reportedly want to keep Ingram but should he see his future elsewhere, I have a feeling we could see some movement at running back, either early in the draft or here in free agency where a lot of big names look to be on the move.
One To Watch
The number two overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft, Reggie Bush, could sensationally return to the Saints.
A pass catching back was a big miss for the Saints last year after Darren Sproles left for Philadelphia, and Bush could be the man to inject that speed and athleticism that Sproles had so much success making mismatches with in his time in New Orleans. Bush is a free agent and wouldn't carry too high of a price tag.
What do you think? Who should the Saints cut? Could Reggie Bush return to the Bayou? And what would you like to see the Saints do with their first round pick on April 30th?