After an 0-4 start to the 2012 season, the New Orleans Saints began to hit their stride, winning five of their next six contests with an NFC South title in mind. Four more losses in their last six games would result in a 7-9 record, however, and New Orleans was left to look ahead to the 2013 season a little earlier than expected.
But last year’s campaign wasn’t exactly a normal year. With general manager Mickey Loomis suspended for eight games and head coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire season, the Saints entered the 2012 campaign without the architects of a team that had previously established itself as an elite franchise in the NFC ranks.
While Payton’s offensive prowess was certainly missed, it was New Orleans’ defense that sank the team’s playoff hopes in 2012, due in no small part to the absence of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who saw his way out of town with an indefinite suspension from the league following Bountygate.
With little established direction at the top of the chain (and glaring lack of talent at several key positions), the Saints shattered the 1981 Baltimore Colts’ single-season record for yards allowed in a season, giving up 7,042 yards to opponents in 2012—to say nothing of the 28.4 points per game they allowed.
But the 2012 season is in the past. With Loomis and Payton back at the helm, New Orleans was able to look ahead to a rebuilding effort this offseason, focusing primarily on the defensive side of the ball.
New Orleans’ first big move was firing defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and replacing him with former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan—a move that will have a massive impact on the team in 2013. We’ll touch on that more in the following slideshow.
The Saints also made a bevy of changes on the player personnel side, predicated on free-agent spending and a solid 2013 draft class.
Loomis went to work on the free-agent market in acquiring former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis and Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Victor Butler, the latter of whom Ryan was very familiar with after having spent the last two seasons coaching him.
Unfortunately for Loomis and the Saints defense, the acquisition of Butler hasn’t gone as expected. As reported by Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the 25-year-old tore his ACL on Tuesday during the team’s OTAs and will miss the 2013 season.
Butler was expected to be a key component to New Orleans’ pass rush this year, but with the newly signed linebacker on the shelf, Loomis will have to draft up a Plan B to fill the position.
In hindsight, Loomis could have opted to add additional depth in the 2013 draft as a contingency plan for a similar situation, but given the fact that he only had five picks to work with, Loomis can’t be to blame. It was an unexpected setback that will now have to be addressed as quickly as possible.
Given the availability of a few talented veteran pass-rushers still on the free-agent market, the Saints may still be able to add a pass-rushing element before the start of the season. Who that would be remains to be seen, however.
Along with Loomis’ top defensive acquisitions, the GM also made some solid offensive signings this offseason, including tight end Benjamin Watson, offensive tackle Jason Smith and quarterback Seneca Wallace. While Watson stands to see plenty of time in sub packages and in relief of Jimmy Graham, Smith is the most likely of the trio to see a big role on the offense this season after starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod departed for Chicago in free agency.
Smith has an outside chance of earning the left tackle spot this season, but he’ll have some competition. Along with 2012 backup left tackle Charles Brown, he’ll have to contend with rookie third-round pick Terron Armstead.
Armstead is still very raw, but his tremendous athleticism was enough to warrant an early-round selection from Loomis and the Saints. While some considered the pick a bit of a risk, the Saints weren’t worried about perceived value, especially after making a fantastic value pick in the round prior.
With the 15th pick in the draft, New Orleans selected Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro—arguably the best defensive back in the entire draft class. With so much inconsistency at the safety positions, New Orleans couldn’t have asked for a better option.
The results of New Orleans’ offseason efforts won’t be apparent until the 2013 season begins, but it’s an excellent sign that Loomis was quick to address the team’s biggest areas of need.
We’ll take a closer look at many of those offseason moves and also preview a few positions worth keeping an eye on as the season closes in.