Very few things are absolutely certain in today's world, especially in the NFL. It is almost impossible to know for sure who will be where in 2012. Sure free agency has answered many of those questions through its first week.
But there are still many high-end players who remain team-less. And there are many on rosters now who will not be come opening weekend in September. That doesn't begin to speak of college players to be acquired in the draft or through free agency immediately after.
In other words, once all the chips are settled and the puzzle pieces put together, each and every team figures to look vastly different from the one that completed the 2011 calendar year.
For the Saints, and every other team, that means more young players are going to step up and take over key spots. They will either be taking the spots of veterans or replacing veterans who were not retained.
The disparity in the final rosters may be even more diverse for a Saints team that could learn of excessive penalties Monday stemming from the "Bounty Fund" reported a few weeks ago. Who are those players who will be replaced or see their roles diminish in 2012? Read on to find out.
This selection is probably the most obvious. Not only is Jonathan Vilma likely to face some form of suspension due to his enhanced role in the Bounty Fund, but he is coming off a season with many injuries. Plus the Saints have been shopping for new linebacker talent—bringing in multiple players this weekend including the Falcons’ Curtis Lofton.
It doesn’t even account for the distinct possibility that Vilma is cut because of his suspensions and high cap figure. One way or another, Vilma’s time as the “quarterback of the defense” seem all but done in New Orleans.
Whether it’s Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Curtis Lofton or someone else, Vilma is unlikely to even see the field at middle linebacker in 2012. For that reason, it’s unlikely the Saints will elect to keep him when all is said and done.
Scott Shanle is just like that friend you don't really like, he doesn't really contribute anything to the group and you actually try to replace him. Yet there he is at the movies, at birthday parties, at weddings and even family reunions. You simply cannot get rid of him.
That's Scott Shanle. The New Orleans Saints have been trying to replace him ever since they picked him up in 2006. Yet, he is just good enough to keep his place and spot along the linebacker unit.
Expect that to finally change in 2012. Shanle has one year left on his deal so cutting him would not be a huge sacrifice to the team's cap figure. He also proved to be a bit of a waste in coverage last year.
If the Saints add a new middle linebacker, Jo-Lonn Dunbar will shift outside and take Shanle's spot. That leaves Shanle a rotation linebacker at best, a player without a team at worst.
Courtney Roby was already limited in his role. He has been exclusively a special teams player most of his time in New Orleans. After last year, Roby gave up his kick-return role to Darren Sproles.
In 2012, I'd be surprised if Roby is even allowed to continue in his limited special teams role. It would seem the Saints are going to need another wide receiver spot available on the roster as Adrian Arrington takes Robert Meachem's spot in the lineup.
Expect the Saints to bring in a more explosive receiver to return kicks and play on the other special teams units. That would leave Roby with virtually no spot on the roster to occupy.
Charles Brown was the Saints' second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He is now going into his third season, which means the Saints are going to expect him to win the right tackle job.
They might even feel compelled to put him in there even if they aren't certain he's the best option.
If this happens, Strief will either get cut or go back to his role as the jumbo package tight end. Of course, Pat McQuistan filled that role in 2011. The Saints would most likely cut Strief and avoid the awkward, "hey we're demoting you" conversation.
With four legitimate running backs on the Saints' roster, it is nearly impossible to single one of them out as a standout. Yet one must be picked out of the group as a guy who will take a backseat.
In 2012, it would seem Chris Ivory is the most likely candidate for such a designation. He came on strong at the end of 2011, but that was in the stead of injured rookie Mark Ingram. Assuming the Alabama product is healthy, he isn't going to back out of the mix.
Darren Sproles is much too valuable to be that guy either. And though Pierre Thomas is the least talented of the quadrant of backs, he is probably the most valuable.
It's no indictment on Ivory that he is likely the odd man out. It's more by default than for any real reason.
With a team as talented as the Saints, that's the case throughout the entire roster.