Creating the Perfect Offseason Plan for the New Orleans Saints
With that in mind, the question arises: What would make for the perfect 2013 Saints offseason?
Much of it is obvious, while a few things are more controversial. These are all ultimately opinions.
But the attempt here is to create the perfect offseason. Time will not be given to any next-best options or compromises. That is another article for another time.
With that said, here is the perfect New Orleans Saints offseason.
Re-Sign Head Coach Sean Payton & Keep Rest of Coaching Staff Intact
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Though keeping Joe Vitt as head coach in the event that Sean Payton decides to take his management skills elsewhere is a nice compromise, it is not the perfect solution for the Saints' coaching situation.
Vitt is better as an assistant head coach. And Payton is one of the top three head coaches in the NFL. Tell me which solution is better.
With Vitt reinstalled as the full-time linebackers coach, that units' production would only improve. And the entire team would benefit from Vitt's experience in both head coach capacity and assistant head coach.
Of course the team would also benefit from Payton's no non-sense style of player management, ultra-creative motivation and game management that he nearly perfected in 2009 as the head coach of New Orleans' first Super Bowl win.
Retaining Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator seems more than likely, but that doesn't make it any less important. The unit has shown amazing improvement from Week 1 to the end of the season.
Though the statistics do not reveal this truth, Spagnuolo's unit has been amazing for the better part of the past eight games.
Bringing Aaron Kromer and Pete Carmichael back in their current roles will allow the offensive staff to continue in its current capacity. Payton's presence will help keep Carmichael focused on balance, and his input in the game plan will only make the Saints' offense better.
Make no mistake about it, though; this is now Carmichael's offense. Payton will never call the offense again until Carmichael leaves for a head coaching job.
Retaining These Free Agents to Be
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The New Orleans Saints have 21 free agents to be on their current roster. Seven of those are restricted free agents, meaning that as long as the team puts a tender claim on them, another team signing them will guarantee a compensatory draft pick.
Here are the players the Saints must re-sign for 2013 and beyond:
QB Chase Daniel
Daniel is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. He could easily become the Saints franchise quarterback when Drew Brees retires. Yet his cap figure should remain low. He has not yet reached the point where he should command attention from another quarterback-hungry team to come start for them.
Expect a one- or two-year deal for Daniel to remain in the Crescent City as Drew Brees' backup once again.
DB Rafael Bush
Bush has become the Saints' best playmaker on defense. Maybe it's some form of beginner's luck. Perhaps it is a trait that he possesses that few other players on this team have.
Assuming the latter, it is integral to the success of this team going forward that Bush become a starter on this defense, perhaps at cornerback.
LB Jonathan Casillas
Casillas has played really well this season as a nickel linebacker. And he's been outstanding on special teams. That should allow him to re-sign for a relatively small figure but become a "starting linebacker" in 2013 with the assumed departure of veteran Jon Vilma.
C Brian de la Puente
This is a decision Saints brass and fans alike cannot feel comfortable with. But it is probably a necessary decision, given the lack of available talents available at the center position both in free agency and the draft.
Re-signing de la Puente for one season is a solid compromise while drafting a center in the middle rounds of the draft is a necessity. The veteran is solid enough as a starter that he can keep the starter's seat warm until the rookie develops.
LS Justin Drescher
There's no need to get excited about this one. It is a necessary and cost-effective decision. Drescher does his job well and there is no need for a replacement.
DE Junior Galette
Junior Galette has shown improvement this season as a nickel pass-rusher teamed with Martez Wilson. Though injured on occasion, Galette is a steady hand. He will never be a star, but is a great rotation pass-rusher.
He is a restricted free agent who would be unlikely to be claimed by another squad. The Saints should be able to get him on the cheap.
WR Saalim Hakim
The average fan is unlikely to even know this name. Hakim was recently added to the roster. The second-year player possesses tremendous speed and special teams acumen.
Hakim will become a cheaper and younger version of Courtney Roby. And he possesses more potential as a receiving threat on offense.
TE Michael Higgins
Higgins is an unrestricted free agent who will not require a high cost to keep. The Saints like Higgins' potential and have a tendency to keep projects like Higgins around longer than most expect.
CB Nick Hixon
Hixon showed enough in training camp this season to warrant a practice squad spot. That means the team likes him enough to keep him around at least one more season.
RB Chris Ivory
Ivory is a restricted free agent who would likely prefer to leave New Orleans. The Saints should give him the lowest tender possible to attract a potential suitor to take a chance on him, which would then give the Saints an extra draft pick.
CB Elbert Mack
Much like Rafael Bush, Elbert Mack has been a ball-hawking defensive back that has made the Saints defense better since he was inserted into the lineup. Mack is effective as a nickel corner and must be kept. His price tag will not be incredibly high.
OG Eric Olsen
Olsen has been massively effective as a sixth blocker in power run formations for the Saints in 2013. He is a restricted free agent, though, who is unlikely to command any kind of tender from another team. Thus, signing him to the lowest possible tender would be wise.
OT William Robinson
Robinson has seen action both as a reserve and a starter at right tackle for New Orleans this season. He has fared admirably and looks to be a competition player in the future. His price tag, like most of the players mentioned here, will be fairly low and cost-effective.
Let These Free Agents/Players Go
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There are some big names who could and should be gone from New Orleans in the 2013 offseason. The common reason is simply not enough bang for the buck. Here are five players who fit that qualification.
LT Jermon Bushrod
Bushrod was awarded a Pro Bowl berth a season ago, riding high the coattails of Drew Brees and the Saints' prolific offense.
He has regressed in 2012 along with the performance of the pass protection unit. The Saints will be looking for his replacement in the 2013 NFL Draft.
DT Sedrick Ellis
Ellis is a player who has greatly underperformed his draft slot and salary figure. If he were to be kept, it would be on a one-year deal. Otherwise, Ellis should be allowed to walk and find work in some other locale.
WR Devery Henderson
Devery Henderson has had a nice career in his native state. But his time as a player on this team seems finished. Henderson no longer creates separation consistently.
Additionally, he has been surpassed as the team's primary deep threat by youngster Joseph Morgan.
LB Jon Vilma
Vilma is known for his role in the "Bounty" scandal and as a key player in the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl victory. But he is now out of place as a weakside linebacker in the Saints' 4-3 defense. His deletion from the squad will save the franchise a great amount of money.
DE Will Smith
Smith has been underrated in his ninth season in the league. But his play has not matched the salary figure he currently has. If he wants to stay a Saint, he must take a significant pay decrease.
Add These Free Agents from Other Teams
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The Saints are unlikely to possess significant cap space in the 2013 NFL offseason, though the moves prescribed previously would free some room. Still, there are some players who could thrive in New Orleans at a considerable discount over comparable players.
OT Sam Baker from Atlanta
Sam Baker was a bit of a disappointment in Atlanta for a "power football team." In a more balanced offense like New Orleans, Baker could be the perfect fit. He also should come at a cost-effective rate.
TE Ben Hartsock from Carolina
As with Baker, taking from a division rival isn't a bad idea. It potentially makes an opposing team in the division weaker. Hartsock is a physical blocker, which is what the team would like to bring in to fill the hole at the third tight end spot.
CB D.J. Moore from Chicago
Moore was a favorite of mine when he came out of Vanderbilt. For some unknown reason he has been replaced as the Bears' nickel back this season. He is the epitome of a playmaker, which is precisely what the Saints need in their secondary. He should come on the cheap.
DT Amobi Okoye from Chicago
Okoye is still an incredibly young player. The No. 10 overall pick in 2007 has had flashes of brilliance in between awful play in his five-year career. He is probably running out of chances, but his potential is great.
DE Michael Johnson from Cincinnati
Johnson had a cap figure of $1.62 million in 2012. That figures to increase by roughly 500 percent in 2013. Johnson has improved each of his four seasons in the NFL to the point where this year he has put up 9.5 sacks in 15 games.
That number would place him first on the Saints roster, of course. Though he would likely command a similar cap number to the one granted Will Smith this season, the production would figure to leap tremendously.
OLB Kaluka Maiva from Cleveland
Maiava was one of four Southern California linebackers to enter the NFL in the spring of 2009. The other three—Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga—have become virtual stars at the NFL level.
Maiava, though, has been a steadily improving player who flashes brilliance on occasion. He would not be a sexy pickup, but would figure to continue to improve the depth of the Saints' linebacking unit and make the Saints defense better once again. This season Maiava has two sacks, three passes defenses and two forced fumbles in addition to 29 tackles.
CB Tracy Porter from Denver
Porter is a goner in Denver. He has disappointed the Broncos this season, and the team has two young players at the position whose future they cherish. Porter could return to the sight of initiation into the league, not to mention the place in which he and the franchise shared their greatest moment.
Meanwhile, Porter's Broncos teammate Ryan Clady would be an ideal fit at left tackle for the Saints. But even in a perfect world, Clady leaving Denver is extremely unrealistic. It simply will not happen.
CB Brice McCain/H-Back James Casey/DE Connor Barwin/C Antoine Caldwell from Houston
As much as picking up all four members of the Texans' squad on this list would be desirable, it is not practical. But picking up one is doable, to say the least. The greatest need would be at center, and Caldwell may be the finest fit of any of the options available in free agency or the draft.
CB Chris Houston/DE Lawrence Jackson/DT Sammie Lee Hill from Detroit
Taking one of the three of these members away from Detroit's not-so-vaunted defense wouldn't seem to be a great prize. But each player as an individual is uniquely talented. Each has had some nice moments in The Motor City, but all are expendable.
Each seems to fit the Saints very well.
That's the theme of each player listed here. Each is a cap novelty. None of these players are going to demand the kind of salary that marquee free agents most certainly would (save for Johnson). All promise to be good fits in New Orleans, and would make the 2013 Saints a better football team.
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The New Orleans Saints are in desperate need of a new left tackle. Historically, teams have fared better by drafting an offensive lineman than trying to come up with a fix through free agency.
Yet, according to a very reputable draft expert, it appears the Saints' best bet may not be available in the draft.
No info here, but I think there's a strong chance Jake Matthews stays for senior year. Pouncey-like situation.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) December 26, 2012
With the Saints currently projected to select 16th overall, the Saints' best option is best player available among their greatest needs. Those, of course, are offensive tackle, cornerback and defensive lineman.
Based on the most notable current mock drafts, Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan is the best fit that is available at that pick. Saints brass and fans alike would be more than excited should he be the pick in the first round.
In the third round, Kansas State outside linebacker Arthur Brown would be a great get in the third round. He would add depth and speed to the position. Though unlikely to start as a rookie, he would figure to compete for such a position in the immediate future.
In the fourth round, Kyle Long, the Oregon senior offensive tackle who could win a sixth year of college eligibility, would be the perfect player. He is currently projected as a third-round pick.
The perfect fifth-round pick would be currently projected fourth-rounder Leon McFadden of San Diego State.
In the sixth round, another defensive end would be ideal. Southern Methodist defensive end Margus Hunt, who dominated Fresno State on Christmas Eve in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, is a raw talent who only figures to improve with more playing experience.
And since this is a perfect offseason, the Saints maintain the seventh round pick we are currently supposing to be shipped off to Seattle in exchange for Barrett Ruud in August.
With that selection, the Saints can take best player available. Another offensive tackle would make a ton of sense, as would a tight end. But the pick here is Louisville center Mario Benavides. It is unlikely he lasts until the seventh round, but in the perfect scenario he would.
The Saints could then look to add talent at any and all positions in college free agency.
Make no mistake about it: if Sean Payton returns, this team will threaten for a Super Bowl title with or without any of the prescribed moves listed. These moves would all but guarantee a second championship in five seasons.