FB Heath Evans, TE Dan Campbell, TE Darnell Dinkins, OT Anthony Davis, C Nick Leckey, DE/DT Paul Spicer, DT Rod Coleman, ILB Antony Waters, CB Jabari Greer, S Darren Sharper, S Pierson Prioleau, K John Carney.
FS Malcolm Jenkins, SS Chip Vaughn, ILB Stanley Arnoux, P Thomas Morstead.
RB Deuce McAllister, FB Mike Karney, FB Darian Barnes, WR David Patten, TE Eric Johnson, DT Brian Young, DT Antwan Lake, DT Hollis Thomas, OLB Dan Morgan, CB Mike McKenzie, CB Jason David, FS Josh Bullocks, FS Kevin Kaesviharn.
2009 New Orleans Saints Offense:
There isn't much to say about New Orleans' offense that hasn't already been said. The Saints ranked first in scoring (28.9 ppg), total yardage and passing yards. They also surrendered only 13 sacks.
The only problem the Saints had last year was running the football. In his three seasons, Reggie Bush has never gained more than 3.8 yards per carry, which was the exact figure he managed in 2008. Bush was once again a terror catching balls out of the backfield (52 receptions, 440 rec. yards), but he carried the ball just 106 times for 404 yards. Deuce McAllister was given the chance later, but he didn't do much better. McAllister was more effective in goal-line situations, but he still was able to muster only 3.9 yards a pop.
However, things changed once Sean Payton turned to Pierre Thomas. I loved Thomas as a fantasy sleeper last year - make sure you check out my 2009 Fantasy Football Rankings section - but I was completely confused when Payton refused to give Thomas more than 10 carries in any game until Nov. 16. Once Thomas was given an opportunity, he proved that he's the best running back on the roster, rushing for 625 yards on just 129 attempts, good for a 4.8 clip.
Thomas is clearly New Orleans' lead back going into the 2009 campaign. The Frenchman added 10 pounds of bulk this offseason to take over goal-line duties as well. I don't know if that'll affect his ability to catch the ball - he logged 31 receptions for 284 yards in 2008 - but he looks poised for a 1,200-rushing yard season.
The rest of New Orleans' offense should be as prolific as ever, thanks to its new-found running game. Drew Brees nearly broke Dan Marino's yardage record, compiling 5,069 yards, 34 touchdowns and 17 picks. With Thomas as a threat in the backfield, Brees' numbers should decrease, but that's a good thing. You can't win in the NFL being one-dimensional and throwing 635 times a season.
That said, Marques Colston should have a pretty big year. He missed six games with a knee injury in 2008, and was pretty ineffective until Nov. 30. In his final five games, Colston notched 31 receptions, 438 yards and four touchdowns. Lance Moore, who caught 79 balls for 928 yards and 10 scores, will benefit from having a healthy Colston on the field. Jeremy Shockey, meanwhile, has had an entire offseason to work with Brees, so unless Payton sours on him, he'll be more of a factor this year.
No complaints with New Orleans' offensive line. Jammal Brown is one of the better left tackles in the NFL. Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans form perhaps the top guard tandem in the league. Jonathan Goodwin did a solid job taking over for Jeff Faine at center. The weakest link up front is at right tackle, though I wouldn't call Jon Stinchcomb a big liability or anything - he's a serviceable and reliable player who hasn't missed a start in three years.
2009 New Orleans Saints Defense:
It was the same old story for New Orleans - great offense, horrific defense. The Saints finished 26th in scoring (24.6 ppg), 23rd in yards allowed and 20th versus the pass (7.1 YPA). Their 28 sacks didn't help. Fortunately for New Orleans fans, I have every reason to believe that the stop unit will improve this season.
As indicated, the pass rush was a huge issue. Bobby McCray led the team with six sacks, and no other player had more than three. So, what happened to Will Smith and Charles Grant? Well, Grant's situation was more obvious, as he played in only seven full games because he suffered a torn triceps. Smith, meanwhile, didn't miss a single contest, but he was hampered by a sports hernia all year. He had surgery to repair it, so he and Grant should be good to go.
The Saints still won't have an incredible pass rush, but they should be able to record about 35 sacks. With that in mind, the secondary should be able to play a lot better, especially with the influx in talent it has received the past two offseasons. New Orleans used the 14th-overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft on Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins is currently penciled in as a corner, but he would be much better at free safety, where he could start immediately over the 33-year-old Darren Sharper. He and Roman Harper would form a pretty dynamic safety tandem.
At corner, New Orleans signed Jabari Greer. I can't say I'm a big fan of this move; the front office already made the mistake of bringing in a cover-2 corner to play in a man scheme (Jason David). Greer will be in the same situation. On the bright side, the Saints still have Randall Gay and Tracy Porter; Porter played brilliantly as a rookie, but participated in just five games because of a dislocated wrist. Even if Greer doesn't pan out, the Saints seem pretty stacked in the secondary.
Stopping the run wasn't as much of an issue for New Orleans, ranking 16th (4.1 YPC). The team will be better in this department as well; the front office signed Paul Spicer to play next to Sedrick Ellis. Ellis thrived as a rookie, but didn't get much help because of the injuries Smith, Grant and Brian Young incurred. Spicer will be an upgrade by default over Young; the former Saint missed 17 games in his last two seasons, and was consequently released.
With the defensive line and secondary shored up, the weak point of New Orleans' stop unit is clearly the linebacking corps. Jonathan Vilma, stationed in the middle, recorded 132 tackles in his first season with the Saints. However, Scott Fujita and especially Scott Shanle remain liabilities. The Saints drafted Stanley Arnoux in the fourth round as an upgrade over Shanle. Unfortunately, the Demon Deacon product suffered a torn Achillies' tendon and will miss the 2009 season.
2009 New Orleans Saints Schedule and Intangibles:
The Saints are usually pretty miserable at home - 54-66 as hosts from 1992 to 2007 - but they were surprisingly effective in the Louisiana Superdome in 2008, compiling a 6-2 record. The two losses came to playoff-bound squads (Minnesota, Carolina).
Sean Payton stated last summer that Reggie Bush would see more action in the return game, and he certainly wasn't kidding. Bush took three punts to the house in 2008 despite missing six games. Pierre Thomas and Courtney Roby maintained decent kick return averages (25.6, 24.8 respectively) but didn't score touchdowns. The Saints allowed one special-teams score.
The kicking game cost the Saints two victories in 2008. Martin Gramatica missed a few clutch attempts. Rookie Taylor Mehlhaff, meanwhile, wasn't much better. Luckily, New Orleans found its solution in Garrett Hartley. Playing in eight games, Hartley was a perfect 13-of-13, including 4-of-4 from 40 to 49. Hartley didn't attempt a 50-yarder, so it's not completely clear that he's the solution, but the fact remains that he's much better than both Gramatica and Mehlhaff.
Glenn Pakulak dropped just three punts inside the 20, so the Saints spent a late-round pick on Thomas Morstead.
The Saints don't really have a taxing schedule, as it seems like their tough opponents (Eagles, Giants, Falcons, Panthers, Patriots and Redskins) are pretty spread out. The team has a four-game span where it plays the Giants, Dolphins, Falcons and Panthers, but three of those contests are at home.
2009 New Orleans Saints Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 New Orleans Saints Analysis: The Saints had four major problems last year: The lack of a running game; a pedestrian pass rush; an incompetent secondary; and horrifically inaccurate place-kickers.
All four of those areas have been addressed. Pierre Thomas is talented enough to rush for at least 1,200 yards, making New Orleans' offense more two-dimensional. The pass rush will be better because Will Smith and Charles Grant are healthy again. The secondary will also improve, thanks to Malcolm Jenkins, a healthy Tracy Porter and perhaps Jabari Greer. And the Saints seemed to have found their kicker in Garrett Hartley.
New Orleans is a very talented team without any major flaws. Barring massive injuries, the Saints will be one of the teams with a great shot of reaching, and perhaps winning the Super Bowl.
The Saints didn't have much to work with, but three of the four players they drafted could make big contributions in 2009.
Malcolm Jenkins was a no-brainer selection in an absolutely crazy first round. Chip Vaughn was great value. Stanley Arnoux is an underrated prospect who may improve a mediocre linebacking corps. And Thomas Morstead, obviously will really help on special teams.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A-
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
14. Malcolm Jenkins, FS, Ohio State
No more nosebleeds for Saints fans! Malcolm Jenkins should make New Orleans' secondary much better. With Jenkins, they'll finally hold teams to less than 30 points per game. (Pick Grade: A)
116. Chip Vaughn, SS, Wake Forest
Going into the 2009 NFL Draft, New Orleans' greatest need was its secondary. I'd say they took care of it. Chip Vaughn is excellent value in Round 4. (Pick Grade: A)
118. Stanley Arnoux, ILB, Wake Forest
Meanwhile, New Orleans' second-greatest need was the linebacking corps. Stanley Arnoux seems like somewhat of a reach, but the Saints don't have another pick until the seventh round, so I understand why they're taking him. (Pick Grade: B)
164. Thomas Morstead, P, SMU
The Saints traded up for a punter. That may not go over well with the fans, but if Thomas Morstead works out, he'll give this defense good field position. (Pick Grade: B)
I'm not a Saints fan, so there is no bias in my saying that they were much better than an 8-8 team. In fact, their point differential was better than 11-5 Atlanta's. New Orleans had some horrible luck early in the year with their kicking game; Martin Gramatica was responsible for losses to Denver and Minnesota. Overall, of the eight Saints defeats, five were by a field goal or less.
Saints cut WR Paris Warren
Panthers sign S Kevin Kaesviharn
Saints cut CB Jason David
Saints sign TE Martrez Milner
Saints sign K John Carney
Rams sign DT Hollis Thomas
Saints cut FB Darian Barnes
Jaguars sign DT Montavious Stanley
Saints sign OT Anthony Davis
Saints announce retirement of LB Dan Morgan
Saints sign WR Paris Warren
Saints cut DT Hollis Thomas
Saints cut DT Brian Young
Saints re-sign G Jahri Evans
Saints re-sign WR Lance Moore
Saints sign ILB Anthony Waters
Saints re-sign OT Zach Strief
Saints re-sign CB Leigh Torrence
Saints re-sign QB Joey Harrington
Saints sign DT Rod Coleman
Saints cut S Kevin Kaesviharn
Saints sign S Pierson Prioleau
Browns sign WR David Patten
Saints cut CB Mike McKenzie
Saints sign S Darren Sharper
Saints sign TE Darnell Dinkins
Saints sign C Nick Leckey
Saints sign DE Paul Spicer
Saints re-sign WR/KR Courtney Roby
Bears sign FS Josh Bullocks
Rams sign FB Mike Karney
Saints sign FB Heath Evans
Saints cut FB Mike Karney
Saints sign CB Jabari Greer
Saints re-sign WR Devery Henderson
Saints re-sign OLB Troy Evans
Saints re-sign OT Jon Stinchcomb
Saints re-sign ILB Jonathan Vilma
Saints sign TE Dan Campbell
Saints cut RB Deuce McAllister
Free Safety: Josh Bullocks... Kevin Kaesviharn... does it really matter? Upgrading the free safety position has to be New Orleans' No. 1 priority this offseason. Signed Darren Sharper and Pierson Prioleau
Linebacker: Make it two linebackers if the Saints don't re-sign Jonathan Vilma. If New Orleans retains Vilma and keeps him in the middle, they'll need an upgrade at weakside linebacker. But they could also slide Vilma over to WILL, opening up a slot in the middle. Re-signed Jonathan vilma and Troy Evans; drafted Stanley Arnoux; signed Anthony Waters
Defensive Tackle: The Saints drafted Sedrick Ellis in the first round last year, but they still need another defensive tackle to help collapse the pocket. Signed Rod Coleman
Cornerback: Tracy Porter looked great as a rookie last year, so it's a shame he missed the final three months of the season with a dislocated wrist. Porter will be back in the lineup, but 33-year-old Mike McKenzie's tenure in New Orleans looks like it'll be over after the 2009 season. The Saints will need a long-term solution sometime soon. Malcolm Jenkins could be an option at No. 14. Signed Jabari Greer
Right Tackle: Right tackle wasn't a major weakness for the Saints or anything, but mediocre free-agent Jon Stinchcomb's position can be upgraded. Re-signed Jon Stinchcomb; tendered Zach Strief; signed Anthony Davis
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Jabari Greer, CB, Bills. Age: 27. Signed with Saints (4 years)
Kareem Abdul Jabari Greer is a decent corner who could compete for starting time elsewhere - but not in Buffalo. Leodis McKelvin will take over full time across from Terrence McGee.
Heath Evans, FB, Patriots. Age: 30. Signed with Saints
A quality fullback who will likely re-sign with the Patriots.
Jason David, CB. Age: 27.
Don't laugh at Jason David being this high; he's still an effective corner in a cover-2 system. He was just a poor fit for New Orleans' scheme.
John Carney, K, Giants. Age: 45. Signed with Saints
John Carney was great in the regular season, hitting 35-of-38 attempts, including 6-of-8 from 40-plus. However, he was awful in a playoff loss to the Eagles, missing on two crucial kicks.
Darren Sharper, S, Vikings. Age: 33. Signed with Saints
Darren Sharper's days as a starter are over. Excluding two instances, the last time Sharper came off the bench was in 1997 - his rookie season.
Anthony Waters, ILB, Chargers. Age: 25. - Signed with Saints
Nick Leckey, C, Rams. Age: 27. - Signed with Saints
Pierson Prioleau, S, Jaguars. Age: 32. - Signed with Saints
Rod Coleman, DT, Falcons. Age: 33. - Signed with Saints
Paul Spicer, DE, Jaguars. Age: 34. - Signed with Saints
Dan Campbell, TE, Lions. Age: 33. - Signed with Saints
Anthony Davis, OT, Rams. Age: 29. - Signed with Saints
Darnell Dinkins, TE, Browns. Age: 32. - Signed with Saints
Martrez Milner, TE, Jets. Age: 25. - Signed with Saints
New Orleans Saints Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 11): -$5 million
Jahri Evans (RFA), G. Age: 26. Re-signed with Saints (1 year, $2.792 million)
Jahri Evans, one of the top guards in the league, is due for a monstrous contract. He has no weaknesses in his game, he's started all 48 games he's played in his career, and he'll be only 26 in August.
Jonathan Vilma, LB. Age: 27. Re-signed with Saints (5 years, $34 million; $17 million guaranteed)
Jonathan Vilma was recently charged with reckless driving and resisting arrest. There was no alcohol, however, so at least we know that Vilma isn't auditioning to be Cedric Benson's disciple.
Vilma is probably a better fit for the Saints at weakside linebacker. Unfortunately, they can't re-sign him until the free-agency period begins, unless they want to cough up a first-round pick.
Lance Moore (RFA), WR. Age: 26. Re-signed with Saints (1 year, $1.545 million)
Lance Moore had a breakout year in 2008, catching 79 balls for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those who argue that Moore did nothing once Marques Colston returned to the lineup may have missed his eight-catch, 91-yard, two-touchdown performance against Carolina in Week 17.
Mike Karney, FB. Age: 28. Signed with Rams (3 years, $3.6 million)
A top-notch run-blocker. Not an offensive weapon at all.
Jon Stinchcomb, OT. Age: 30. Re-signed with Saints (5 years)
An adequate right tackle with starting experience, Jon Stinchcomb could find work as a reliable backup if he's not retained by the Saints.
Devery Henderson, WR. Age: 27. Re-signed with Saints
Devery Henderson finished his contract year with 32 receptions for 793 yards. Henderson would be a very good deep threat if NFL receivers were allowed to use glue on their hands.
Zach Strief played well in relief this season, but he's probably not starting-material.
Mike McKenzie, CB. Age: 33.
Mike McKenzie, 33 in April, missed nine games in 2008. He has a history of knee injuries.
Deuce McAllister, RB. Age: 30.
Deuce McAllister has two bum knees, but he can still get it done as a goal-line back. The Eagles, who had major problems in fourth-and-one situations, should be interested.
Brian Young, DT. Age: 32.
Joey Harrington, QB. Age: 30. - Re-signed with Saints
Troy Evans, OLB. Age: 31. - Re-signed with Saints
Courtney Roby, KR. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Saints
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: The Saints have won five of six in this rivalry. The lone exception came on Nov. 9, when the Falcons beat New Orleans, 34-20, at the Georgia Dome. Carolina Panthers: The road team has mysteriously won nine of the previous 11 matchups. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This used to be a road-dominated series. Prior to 2008, the visitor had won eight of the last 12 meetings. However, both home teams won this season.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)