The Definitive Blueprint to the New Orleans Saints' Perfect Offseason
The New Orleans Saints just suffered through their worst season since 2007 when it also went 7-9. Creating the perfect offseason is difficult, but the Saints took the most important step Friday when they locked in head coach Sean Payton for five years and roughly $8 million per year.
Any subsequent step taken is merely gravy. Still, there are steps that are necessary. The Saints can truly create a world-beater in this offseason.
Here is the blueprint for the perfect New Orleans Saints' offseason.
Find One More Elite Pass-Rusher
John Grieshop/Getty Images
Whether it's via free agency (see Johnson, Michael from the Bengals) or in the draft (Jordan, Dion of Oregon), the Saints desperately need one more elite pass rusher.
The Saints would seem ready to allow Will Smith to walk or cut his salary in half. With that would come a serious reduction in snaps. In his stead, someone who can pair with Cam Jordan to get after opposing quarterbacks on every drop back is essential.
That kind of pass-rusher will make Jordan better, and by extension, the entire defense. It will make the job of the Saints' secondary at least slightly easier.
All of it will allow the Saints to make the jump from what in the second half of the season was a top-15 defense, to a top-10 defense, at the least.
Note: This player could also come from the defensive tackle spot.
Find One More Ball-Hawking Secondary Player
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
In 2012 the New Orleans Saints improved in creating turnovers, especially in the latter half of the season. Still the unit remained a step slow and the result was not creating the amount of turnovers that it should have.
Turnovers are created by a dominant pass rush, hence the previous slide. But having a guy who can come up and knock the ball out of a receiver's hands with a punishing hit, or simply bait an opposing quarterback and step in front of a poorly executed throw, is necessary for a great NFL defense.
Isa Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush both showed that ability at times in 2012. Roman Harper remains a coverage safety with limited ball skills and Malcolm Jenkins is more of a run defender who doubles as a tremendous blitzer.
If the Saints could pair Tracy Porter with the current mix of Saints corners, suddenly the pedestrian corner group improves tremendously.
Or if a player like Dashon Goldson could be added to the mix, the entire Saints defense would improve as tipped balls would abound and would literally land in the unsuspecting arms of Saints defenders on numerous occasions.
Either way, a dominant defense will require such a player to be acquired.
Shore Up the Edges in Pass Protection
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Just take the Saints' first third-down attempt in Sunday's final game against Carolina. The Saints called a straight drop back pass from the shotgun.
Somehow, Carolina (one of the worst pass-rushing teams in the NFL) pushed the pocket on the Saints' offensive line and forced Drew Brees to throw off his back foot. If one were to watch the play more than once, it would be more than obvious that both left tackle Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Zach Strief were worked like a rag doll (sorry to rag dolls for that comparison).
That is a common theme from the 2012 season. Both Bushrod and Strief were close to awful. For some reason, Bushrod is going to command a significant amount of cash that the Saints do not have on their 2013 salary cap.
The result should be a first-round tackle selected by the team. In fact, the team could trade the remained of its 2013 draft to trade up into the latter half of the first round to take a tackle, after it's taken an elite pass-rusher with the 15th pick.
Find Another Option at Center
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Antoine Caldwell played center at Alabama and projected as a great prospect at the position in the pro ranks. He has played guard, though, in Houston with the Texans.
There he continued his college progression as a nasty run-blocker and solid pass-blocker. Caldwell would help the team further transition to a power running team (another theme this offseason it seems).
By signing this underrated player in free agency, the Saints would be free to trade away most of their draft to acquire two ready-made players in the draft who can contribute in 2013.
It seems such a strategy, along with picking up solid role players in free agency (someone like a D.J. Moore from the Bears), is the one the Saints should select in the 2013 offseason.