This isn’t it.
The white flag isn’t waving. The Saints aren’t tapping out.
It might be hard to see what’s happening over the pile of bodies in the corner of the room, but there is a retooling taking place in New Orleans. It’s a new beginning, with new philosophies. Where it all leads is yet to be determined.
It’s possible the Saints will drown under all this change. They felt the culprit behind last season’s 7-9 finish was in part the result of shipping out too many familiar faces for fresh ones. Maybe that happens again. But at its core, what has happened in the past week is a refusal to settle for the status quo.
This is setting the house on fire to gain the flexibility and space needed to not just win the NFC South but to transform back into a contender. Will it work? That’s the question that will determine whether this is remembered as one of the darkest periods of the Sean Payton era or the extension of one of the most successful runs in franchise history.
What’s certain is that a shot had to be taken. This is not is a fire sale. Those two words have been tossed around quite frequently during the past week, and it’s easy to see why. Three key players have been traded, and another two have been released. Jimmy Graham is gone. Kenny Stills. Ben Grubbs. Curtis Lofton. More could come.
When things like this happen, it’s easy to see why people wonder whether Drew Brees will be under center next season or if this is the end. But even though conspiracy theorists have suggested this is a stripping down to tank or some wacky ploy to damage the franchise because of the Benson family feud, it’s not. You don’t spend $18 million on C.J. Spiller, another $16 million on Mark Ingram and sign Brandon Browner to solidify the secondary if you’re trying to lose games or hosting a fire sale.
It might be hard to see, but the only motive here is to get better. The Saints became too bloated. Too much Kool-Aid. Too much hype. Now they’re trimming down. And part of that process includes stripping assets from the offense so the defense can be rebuilt. The math is simple. Just look at the number of draft picks this team now has: eight.
That’s the most New Orleans has had since 2002. It’s also a somewhat stunning change in philosophy for a team that has picked in the draft 53 times since 2006, the lowest figure in the NFL during that span. Contained within those eight picks is two first-round choices, one in the second and two in the third.
Theoretically speaking, if General Manager Mickey Loomis and Payton settle on the right guys, this team could land five impact players in the early rounds. The odds of that happening are slim since, as Loomis said at the scouting combine, the hit rate is probably closer to 60 percent. So what the Saints really have are greater odds of landing two or three impact players.
The other thing New Orleans now possesses is options. With five picks in the top 80, it can do whatever it wants in the draft. Move up for a stud pass rusher or wide receiver? No problem. The assets are there to land just about any player the team covets.
Who those players are and what positions they play remain undetermined. Free agency is still ongoing, and it appears anyone can be traded for anything at any time, so it’s dangerous to discuss team needs or theorize what this team might look like in the coming days.
All we know right now is that things will look different and there are still needs on the offensive line, for a pass rusher, perhaps at receiver and tight end and maybe even linebacker or cornerback. Those holes will eventually be plugged — or will attempt to be plugged.
Some might theorize these changes were not needed, that the status quo was working. This was, after all, a team in contention to win the NFC South in late December. It also has been said it was a few unlucky breaks away from winning 10 or 11 games.
But the biggest issues last season existed within the interior offensive line and a porous defense. Moving the ball wasn’t an issue. What Loomis has done is created the opportunity to address those weaknesses. It won’t appease many that it came at the expense of the offense, but the team is betting Drew Brees can still move the ball without an elite tight end and an up-and-coming wide receiver.
The Saints will soon find out whether the bet pays off. In the meantime, what they were unwilling to bet on was that this defense could get better without making changes and that the interior offensive line was going to shed a few years and start performing like it did a few years ago.
Maybe they’ve gone too far. Maybe standing pat and applying a few patches would have been the right choice. But the front office saw something, somewhere, that made the Saints believe major changes were needed to move forward.
Now, for those steps to count, Loomis and company have to make the right picks.