In the NFL if you're not improving your roster, you're progressively getting worse. Despite the New Orleans Saints' overall record (10-3) and their high rankings on both offense (sixth) and defense (sixth), the roster still has quite a few major holes in it.
The worst thing an organization can do is "hold fast" in the midst of success, something the Atlanta Falcons' brass did this past offseason. Satisfied with a 13-3 record and going off a mantra of being "10 yards away," (in reference to almost winning the NFC Championship Game) the Falcons assumed their success would carry over into this season.
The Falcons decided not to address how inept they were on both lines of scrimmage, instead, opting to make a splash with a 10-year veteran running back in Steven Jackson. Atlanta's offseason was the epitome of getting fat on past success, to say the least.
For the Saints to sustain their success and to alleviate the perceived road woes, they need to take a hard look at their roster and make some tough decisions on personnel. Whether it is aging veterans or underperforming starters, the Saints have more work to do than one would naturally surmise.
Let's take a look at some offseason moves that would ensure the Saints maintain their status as NFC favorites for the foreseeable future.
Note this a personnel wish list that was formulated strictly off the availability of the free agents and possible draft picks. Contracts and overall monetary value were not considered.
Face it. Father time is undefeated in football.
Eventually Saints quarterback Drew Brees' skills will diminish. It may seem like it will never happen, but believe me it will. Brees will be 35 years old next month (Jan. 15), and will enter his 14th year of league play in 2014.
Theoretically we'd all like to think Brees has another five years of elite play left in him. But as we've seen with other great QBs, it all could change in the blink of an eye. This coming draft is the perfect time to draft Brees' successor. And they should look no further than Ohio State signal-caller Kenny Guiton.
What makes Guiton a perfect candidate is the fact that he's as raw as sushi. He's uberathletic with a great feel for the passing game and the nuances within it. But after throwing a total of 134 passes in four years of college football, he should be thought of as a prospect with the ability to be molded (as we all are).
Guiton got his first chance to start this season in a game against the University of California and proceeded to throw for 276 yards and four touchdowns. He also chipped in with 92 yards on the ground on just 14 carries.
He performed so admirably that many wondered if head coach Urban Meyer would reinsert incumbent starter Braxton Miller in the lineup when he returned from injury.
In Guiton, head coach Sean Payton would have his very own dual-threat QB, a player who would allow Payton to develop and showcase other facets of his offensive genius. He would also have the benefit of having Guiton learn at the feet of one of the very best to ever do it in Brees.
Guiton may be selected in the third of fourth round.
The performance of Saints offensive tackles Charles Brown and Zach Strief has left much to be desired. Neither are franchise-caliber players, and both should be replaced—or in Brown's case reassigned.
The Saints spent a relatively high pick (third round, 75th overall) on tackle Terron Armstead, but he's been collecting some serious splinters in his butt thus far. You would think with how bad the offensive line has struggled at times, he would have at least seen the light of day. But for some odd reason Armstead has remained in the dungeon that is the inactive list.
This would leave one to believe that he's not close to being ready. If the Saints were to sign Oakland Raiders tackle Jared Veldheer, they could allow Armstead a chance to further develop while moving Brown over to the right side where his skill set fits better.
In Veldheer (6'8", 321 lbs), the Saints would get an absolute beast! His ability to drive block is uncanny, and he even spent a year in a zone-blocking scheme. His temperament would be exactly what the Saints need to take the run game to the next level.
He's the type pf player that's weatherproof and would undoubtedly set the tone for the Saints in any environment. He's just as good moving forward to run block as he is moving backwards in pass protection.
Adding fierce competitors to the roster can only be of benefit for the Saints in the grand scheme of things.
When Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan brought his pupil Victor Butler over from the Dallas Cowboys, Saints fans thought they were getting a star outside linebacker, one familiar with the new scheme. What they received, unfortunately, was a player who incurred a season-ending injury in training camp.
But even before the injury, fans must've had Butler confused with the guy he backed up in Dallas in Anthony Spencer.
After studying Ryan for the duration of his career, it's clear that he's performing Yeoman's work without the benefit of having the proper personnel to run his multischeme approach. New Orleans spends most of its time in an even-front alignment when Ryan prefers to operate out of an odd-front approach.
The main reason being he has no true outside linebacker on the roster aside from the injured Butler. But make no mistake, Butler isn't in Spencer's class in any shape, form or fashion. Well, I take that back, Butler is in fantastic shape physique-wise, but in a football sense there's really no comparison.
Under Ryan's tutelage, Spencer went from a first-round disappointment to a budding star. His 2012 totals of 95 tackles, 11 sacks, two forced fumbled and three pass deflections may have just been scratching the surface of what he can ultimately do.
His presence would allow Junior Galette to always work opposite the tight end to ensure he's rarely in coverage—something Spencer excels at—and it would allow Cameron Jordan to actually play the 5-technique where he'd be even more indefensible.
And if they want, the Saints could keep Butler as a rotational player similar to his role in Dallas. Good luck going against the Saints when they are finally able to operate out of the much-bandied-about 3-4-based alignment.
With corners Keenan Lewis and Corey White on the roster, the Saints may end up having one of the better duos in the league. Both are physical outside corners who fit the Ryan scheme to perfection.
But if either were to go down to injury, the Saints would be in major trouble. And as witnessed by the butt-kicking the Saints received by way of the Seattle Seahawks, they could be in trouble even if both are healthy.
This is why the Saints should draft a corner in the first two rounds of the draft. Ohio State corner Bradley Roby would be an excellent schematic fit. Roby has the size (5'11", 192 lbs) to play outside, but he has the hips to excel as a nickel corner.
Right now the Saints continue to deploy safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Kenny Vaccaro as slot corners, much to the chagrin of this columnist. Both are excellent players who would do just fine playing their respective safety positions.
Rookie corner Rod Sweeting made a cameo in one game, but has virtually been collecting the same splinters as fellow rookie Armstead.
I expect injured veterans Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson to be jettisoned, so the Saints need to target a couple of corners.
Roby should be the primary choice.
As an advocate of a balanced offensive approach, I often get frustrated with Payton's approach to the run game. He often employs what seems like 10 backs to split eight carries (I kid...sort of) and rarely runs the ball twice in a row.
His constant rotation often tips his hand as to what play he will call. What he needs is a do-it-all back who never has to leave the field.
Houston Texans running back Ben Tate most certainly fits that description. Though he has been a backup to superstar Arian Foster for the first three seasons, he has the ability to be a top-five back in the league.
If he were to be signed by the Saints this offseason and used properly, he could instantaneously vault the Saints' run game into the upper echelon of the NFL. He can catch like Saints' back Darren Sproles, he has vision like Pierre Thomas and runs with the intensity of Mark Ingram.
He's basically all three of the Saints' primary runners all rolled into one svelte physique (5'11", 217 lbs). He's a power back who excels in a zone-blocking scheme, like the one the Saints run, and is a threat to take it the distance with each touch.
Saints fans watched Tate torch their defense in the preseason. This offseason will present the chance for them to watch it on a weekly basis next fall.
Make it happen Sean!
Signing New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks would take the Saints' offense to new heights. The 25-year-old Nicks is one of the best young receivers in the NFL, and he has all the prerequisite tools to be a No. 1 receiver, as he has been for the duration of his young career.
The Saints have struggled to get the ball to their receivers on a consistent basis. Incumbent No. 1 receiver Marques Colston has been wildly inconsistent and may have even lost a step. Pairing him with Nicks would ensure Colston sees the opposition's No. 2 corner more frequently. It would also allow Kenny Stills to operate out of the slot where he could possibly be the next Victor Cruz (also of the New York Giants).
With deep-ball threat Joseph Morgan returning next season, the Saints would undoubtedly field the league's best receiving corps. They would need to get rid of receiver Lance Moore and possibly Nick Toon as well.
But these are the tough decisions great front offices make. Acquiring Nicks would be a move for the present as well as the future. His ability to win in one-on-one situations is unparalleled; his ability to break off splash plays may be only superseded by his penchant for working the short and intermediate game.
Above all else, he may have the best hands of any receiver in the league. He's simply one of the very best.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis needs to be on the phone with Nicks' agent now.
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