QB Luke McCown, TE Ben Watson, OT Jason Smith, DE/DT Kenyon Coleman, DE/OLB Victor Butler, CB Keenan Lewis, CB Chris Carr, S Jim Leonard.
Early Draft Picks:
S Kenny Vaccaro, OT Terron Armstead, NT John Jenkins, WR Kenny Stills. Saints Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB Chase Daniel, RB Chris Ivory, WR Devery Henderson, TE David Thomas, OT Jermon Bushrod, DE Turk McBride, DT Sedrick Ellis, OLB Scott Shanle, OLB Jonathan Casillas, CB Elbert Mack, CB Johnny Patrick.
2013 New Orleans Saints Offense:
The Saints were a mess last year because they didn't have Sean Payton, but Drew Brees did a good job of trying to hold everything together. Despite missing the offensive mastermind on the sidelines, Brees still had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, compiling 5,177 yards, 43 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. The pick total was the second-highest of his career (22 in 2010), but considering everything else, Brees has to be commended for his effort.
Payton is back, so Brees should be even better in 2013 - especially when considering that his most talented target, tight end Jimmy Graham, is now healthy again. Graham labored through a wrist injury that required surgery after the season. Graham consequently led all tight ends in drops by a wide margin; he had 15, while the player with the next-highest total was Aaron Hernandez with 10.
Graham, Marques Colston and Lance Moore will once again be Brees' main non-backfield targets. Devery Henderson, the team's deep threat, is gone, and was supposed to be replaced by the promising Joe Morgan, who averaged a ridiculous 37.9 yards per reception on his 10 catches last season. Unfortunately, Morgan was arrested for a DUI at the end of May, so the Saints may want to start someone else across from Colston. A possible candidate is fifth-round rookie Kenny Stills out of Oklahoma.
One of Brees' main weapons comes out of the backfield. That would be Darren Sproles, whose impact can be seen by looking at how Philip Rivers has fared in San Diego without him. Sproles is a dynamic play-maker as a pass-catching running back; he has logged 161 receptions and 14 receiving touchdowns in the past two years. He doesn't rush the ball much - he had 48 carries in 2012 - so that job will be up to Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas with Chris Ivory shipped off to the Jets. Ingram has been a colossal bust as a 2011 first-round pick. He's allegedly healthy for the first time as a pro, but if history is any indication, he'll be banged up sometime soon. Once that happens, Thomas will get a bulk of the carries. He's not a bad option, having rushed for 4.8 yards per carry in the previous couple of seasons.
Meanwhile, it's clear that the offensive line is the weakest part of the New Orleans scoring unit. Much was made about the left tackle situation; when Jermon Bushrod signed with the Bears, all the team had left at the position was injury-prone bust Charles Brown. However, this was always overblown. The blind-side protector is very important for most squads, but Brees releases the ball as quickly as any quarterback in the league. Thus, the interior of the Saints' blocking is more paramount than anything else up front. And besides, it's not like Bushrod was that good anyway. He was sub par at best, so either Brown or third-round rookie Terron Armstead won't be much of a drop-off.
As for that interior, it's pretty strong. Right guard Jahri Evans is the best (and the richest) of the group. He didn't allow a single sack in 2012. Playing next to him are center Brian De La Puente, who was a pleasant surprise for the team last season, and left guard Ben Grubbs, who filled in well for the departed Carl Nicks. The final member of the offensive line is right tackle Zach Streif, who isn't very good. Streif permitted six sacks last year.
2013 New Orleans Saints Defense:
The Saints are one of a handful of teams that are switching alignments this offseason, going from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Some organizations are doing this irresponsibly - for example, the Browns and Eagles don't have the personnel to run their new scheme - but with the Saints, why not? They had a dreadful stop unit anyway, so there's little risk in beginning anew.
The same problems still remain, unfortunately. New Orleans barely got any pressure on the quarterback, recording just 30 sacks in 2012. The only pass-rusher the team added this offseason was Victor Butler, formerly of Dallas. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL and is out for the year. Butler figured to start across from either Will Smith, Junior Galette or Martez Wilson. Smith, 32 in July, does not project as a good fit for the 3-4, so it might be bad news if he wins the job. Galette and Wilson had five and three sacks, respectively, in limited action last season.
What the Saints will do up front is more clear. Cameron Jordan is the top player on the defensive line and perhaps the entire stop unit. He had eight sacks and shut down the run effectively in 2012. He's a natural fit in the Saints' new 3-4 because he played in that alignment as a Cal Bear. Akiem Hicks, the other defensive end, has the prototypical size for a 3-4 lineman. He and Jordan will sandwich nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley until third-round rookie John Jenkins is ready to take over. Bunkley has never been in this scheme before, so New Orleans may need Jenkins to develop pretty quickly. Jenkins is a 346-pound monster out of Georgia.
New Orleans' mediocre pass rush didn't do the secondary any favors last year. However, the defensive backfield still needed a major upgrade, which is why the front office was smart in drafting Kenny Vaccaro in the middle of the first round in April. Vaccaro projects as an instant upgrade over Roman Harper, who was an abomination in coverage. The Saints will be hoping that his presence helps out free safety Malcolm Jenkins, who is coming off a truly horrible season.
Another upgrade the Saints made to help improve their maligned secondary was signing Keenan Lewis away from the Steelers. Lewis played very well in his first season as a starter in 2012, surrendering a solid 52.7 completion percentage and just three touchdowns. He took a hometown discount to play for his beloved Saints. He'll start across from Jabari Greer, who was inconsistent but overall pretty decent in 2012. Unfortunately, there's very little depth at the position. Patrick Robinson and Corey White, the next two corners, were torched frequently this past season.
The Saints didn't do anything at inside linebacker, so they'll be counting on better play from Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. Both were big-name acquisitions last spring, but they were major disappointments in their first years in New Orleans. Perhaps having a real coach on the sidelines will help.
2013 New Orleans Saints Schedule and Intangibles:
The Saints used to be pretty miserable at home - 54-66 as hosts from 1992 to 2007 - but they've completely turned it around. The Louisiana Superdome has transformed into a mad house where opposing quarterbacks can't hear anything. In the past five seasons, the Saints are 32-11 as hosts, including a perfect 9-0 in 2011.
New Orleans outgained its opponents in both punt and kickoff returns back in 2011, but it completely flipped this past season. That was just one of the ramifications of not having a real head coach.
Garrett Hartley drilled the Super Bowl-clinching field goal in the NFC Championship back in January 2010. He missed all of 2011 because of a hip injury, but bounced back to go 18-of-22 this past season, including 3-of-4 from 50-plus.
Thomas Morstead tied San Francisco's Andy Lee for the top net-punting average last year.
The Saints play just five games against teams that made the playoffs this past season: Falcons (twice), Patriots, 49ers and Seahawks. They have some easy games like the Cardinals, Dolphins (home), Jets, Bills, Cowboys (home) and Buccaneers (twice).
2013 New Orleans Saints Rookies:
Go here for the Saints Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 New Orleans Saints Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2013 New Orleans Saints Analysis: The Saints are definitely a bounce-back candidate. Drew Brees is still as sharp as ever, while some positive changes were made on defense. Most importantly, Sean Payton has returned. New Orleans absolutely could overtake the Falcons as NFC South champions again and make a run at another Super Bowl.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: New Orleans is in the same position as most of the teams in their division in terms of needing to add tons of upgrades to its defense. A left tackle for Drew Brees has been discussed, but that's more of a luxury than a big need because of how quickly Drew Brees can release the football.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Despite having just five selections, the Saints had one of the top draft classes. Four of their selections scored an A- or better, and they were able to fill some key needs.
The secondary has always been an issue for New Orleans, so its fans have to be thrilled that the front office landed the top safety in the class, Kenny Vaccaro. The Texas product was projected by some to go to the Jets at 13 or Panthers at 14, so it was definitely the right range for him. A better value, meanwhile, was John Jenkins, obtained at No. 82. Some pegged the monstrous nose tackle as a late first-round prospect, so getting him in the middle of the third was quite a feat.
Speaking of steals, Terron Armstead shouldn't have been available at No. 75. He may not be ready to start now, but he has unbelievable athleticism and the potential to develop into a stud left tackle. He should be able to help Drew Brees, as will Kenny Stills, who could replace the departed Devery Henderson.
My one gripe with New Orleans' draft class is that it didn't find a pass-rusher until No. 183. But with limited resources, thanks to the Spygate penalty, you can't exactly blame the front office for that.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
15. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: A- Grade
This is a very good pick by a smart team. The Saints had major issues at safety, and Kenny Vaccaro is one of the top players available. With Matt Ryan and Cam Newton in the division, New Orleans absolutely had to upgrade its secondary. Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper weren't cutting it.
75. Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: A Grade
It was sad to see Steve Gleason announce this pick. I don't understand why there's no cure for ALS yet, but hopefully that'll change soon. At any rate, the Saints made an outstanding selection with Terron Armstead, who is raw but has first-round talent. There was some speculation that Armstead could sneak into the end of the first round, so New Orleans just made a terrific value pick.
82. John Jenkins, NT, Georgia: A+ Grade
The Saints are absolutely killing this draft. John Jenkins was considered by some to be a late first-round prospect, but he fell because there just wasn't a league-wide need for nose tackles. The Saints probably don't mind too much because they needed a big defensive lineman in the middle of their new 3-4.
144. Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma: A- Grade
Receiver wasn't a perceived need for the Saints heading into the draft, but there was room for improvement with Devery Henderson gone. Kenny Stills was a fourth-round prospect, so New Orleans is getting good value with him.
183. Rufus Johnson, DE/OLB, Tarleton State: C Grade
Rufus Johnson is the first rush linebacker drafted by the Saints, and it's a bit surprising that they waited this long for one. Johnson wasn't deemed a draftable prospect, so this is a pretty big reach.
*** 2013 NFL TEAM NEEDS BELOW COMMENT BOARD ***
If anything, the 2012 Saints' season taught us the value of head coaches. Roger Goodell single-handedly capsized New Orleans' 2012 campaign by suspending Sean Payton for the whole year. The team was consequently discombobulated early on, even somehow losing to the Chiefs in overtime. The Saints played better as the season progressed, but Payton was still sorely missed. The good news is that his suspension is over.
Redskins sign WR Donte' Stallworth
Bears sign DT Sedrick Ellis
Saints sign CB Chris Carr
Jets acquire RB Chris Ivory from Saints for 4th-round pick
Saints sign OT Jason Smith
Saints sign S Jim Leonhard
Saints sign QB Luke McCown
Saints sign DE/DT Kenyon Coleman
Saints sign DE/OLB Victor Butler
Bears sign DE Turk McBride
Saints re-sign OLB Ramon Humber
Saints sign TE Ben Watson
Saints re-sign KR Courntey Roby
Saints sign CB Keenan Lewis
Buccaneers sign OLB Jonathan Casillas
Bears sign OT Jermon Bushrod
Chiefs sign QB Chase Daniel
Saints cut OLB Will Herring
Saints tender C Brian De La Puente
Saints re-sign DE/OLB Junior Galette
Chargers claim CB Johnny Patrick
Saints cut TE David Thomas
Saints waive CB Johnny Patrick
Saints hire DC Rob Ryan
Rush Linebacker: Junior Galette and Martez Wilson will start at rush linebacker for New Orleans. The front office will have to find a top pass-rusher. Signed Victor Butler; re-signed Junior Galette
Two Safeties: Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins both were completely inept in coverage this past season. Upgrading Harper must be done immediately. Jenkins will be entering the final year of his deal, so the Saints could give him one more shot - though they should bring in some competition. Drafted Kenny Vaccaro; signed Jim Leonhard
Two Offensive Tackles: New Orleans' greatest priority on offense this spring will be to provide Drew Brees with better pass protection along the edges. Both starting tackles were inept pass-blockers last year. Drafted Terron Armstead; signed Jason Smith
Cornerback: Corey White can't be allowed to play nearly as much as he did in 2012. Signed Keenan Lewis and Chris Carr
Nose Tackle: Brodrick Bunkley should be able to start at nose tackle, but a long-term solution is needed. Drafted John Jenkins
Defensive End: The Saints have to find some depth on the defensive line in their 3-4. Signed Kenyon Coleman
Inside Linebacker: Some depth is needed here.
Wide Receiver: Just someone to make sure Devery Henderson isn't on the field very often because he is terrible. Joe Morgan could be the answer, but that's unclear. Drafted Kenny Stills
Quarterback: The Saints should find a capable backup behind Drew Brees. Signed Luke McCown
Tight End: David Thomas was cut, so New Orleans will have to find another reserve tight end. Signed Ben Watson
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Keenan Lewis, CB, Steelers. Age: 27. Signed with Saints (5 years, $26 million; $11 million guaranteed)
Keenan Lewis played very well in his first season as a starter in 2012, surrendering a solid 52.7 completion percentage and just three touchdowns.
Victor Butler, DE/OLB, Cowboys. Age: 26. Signed with Saints
Victor Butler has shown some solid pass-rushing ability in his brief action behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
Ben Watson, TE, Browns. Age: 32. Signed with Saints
Ben Watson's best days are behind him. He caught 49 passes for 501 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.
Jason Smith, OT, Jets. Age: 27. -- Signed with Saints
Kenyon Coleman, DE/DT, Cowboys. Age: 34. -- Signed with Saints
Jim Leonhard, S, Broncos. Age: 30. -- Signed with Saints
Chris Carr, CB, Chargers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Saints
Luke McCown, QB, Falcons. Age: 32. -- Signed with Saints (1 year)
New Orleans Saints Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Brian De La Puente (RFA), C, Saints. Age: 28. Tendered by Saints (2nd round)
An undrafted free agent in 2008, Brian De La Puente has become one of the better centers in the NFL.
Chris Ivory (RFA), RB, Saints. Age: 25. Tendered by Saints (2nd round)
Chris Ivory is talented enough to start for some teams. He has a 5.1 yards-per-carry average throughout his career. He received the most action back in 2010 when he gained 716 yards on 137 attempts. He's not much of a pass-catcher out of the backfield, however.
Junior Galette (RFA), DE, Saints. Age: 25. Re-signed with Saints (3 years)
Junior Galette is a solid situational pass-rusher who should have seen more action last year.
Sedrick Ellis, DT, Saints. Age: 28. Signed with Bears
Sedrick Ellis has been an enormous bust for the Saints as the No. 7 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. There's still time for him to turn his career around though.
Jermon Bushrod, OT, Saints. Age: 29. Signed with Bears
Jermon Bushrod run blocks well, but he can't pass protect at all. He surrendered four sacks in 2012, but that number would've been much higher if Drew Brees didn't release the ball so quickly.
Jonathan Casillas, OLB, Saints. Age: 26. -- Signed with Buccaneers (1 year)
David Thomas, TE, Saints. Age: 30.
Devery Henderson, WR, Saints. Age: 31. -- Signed with Redskins
Elbert Mack, CB, Saints. Age: 27.
Scott Shanle, OLB, Saints. Age: 33.
Johnny Patrick (Waivers), CB, Saints. Age: 25. -- Claimed by Chargers
Chase Daniel, QB, Saints. Age: 26. -- Signed with Chiefs
Turk McBride, DE, Saints. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bears
William Robinson, OT, Saints. Age: 28.
Will Herring, OLB, Saints. Age: 30.
Ramon Humber, OLB, Saints. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Saints
Courtney Roby, KR, Saints. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Saints