The Saints will be hanging out in the clouds the rest of the week.
They’ll move from one to another, hoping to pull some hope out of each one that will eventually lead to a better future. There are no guarantees, but the team is optimistic the work put in over the past year has set up the organization for success during this week’s draft.
The cloud is how the Saints set their draft board. Behind the smoke screens, silence and misinformation that has befallen on the public, the team brass has been busy running through the various scenarios and settled on a handful of prospects it likes who could be available for each of its picks.
The foundation for this process has already been laid out for each of the team’s six picks. Inside of each cloud, there are white magnets with the names of players the team would consider picking at that spot. When one of the players is selected, a gray magnet replaces the white one.
These clouds have been set and worked through and considered over and over, and general manager Mickey Loomis said they’d be tinkered with again Thursday night. And as the draft evolves, so too will the clouds. But for the most part, the bulk of the work has already been completed.
“We group them together and put them in order so we’re not debating who we’re taking if there’s three or four guys available to us at a particular pick, so the cloud is who are those guys in the first round, second round and third round that we think might be available to us,” Loomis said. “We put them up in this grouping, and then we debate about, if all these guys are available, what’s the order we’re taking them in?”
Few hints were given for what each cloud contained. Loomis said their board currently contains more defensive players than offensive players, but that isn’t necessarily an indicator for which direction the team is leaning. The Saints don’t even know. That can’t be decided until the appropriate number of magnets go dark, leaving a handful of options to choose from.
And only time will tell if the defensive talent in this draft is actually better than the offensive talent.
“Right now, we have more defensive players on our board than offensive, and yet, the strength of the draft is going to be determined two or three years from now when we look back as opposed to today just looking at the numbers that are on the board,” Loomis said. “Look, it’s going to be a different viewpoint for every team, depending on who we draft and how they turn out, so I guess the answer to your question is that we probably have a few more, not a lot of defensive players on our board than we do offensive players.”
What we do know is that if New Orleans wants to keep on the right path and avoid the hardships and complications that sometimes define a reloading, which began here last season, it needs to hit on its early picks. If the team decides to select a quarterback early, bringing validation to all the rumors and turning the reload into a rebuild, the goal will remain the same, but that conversation is best left packaged until the seal is broken.
For now, it’s best to assume Drew Brees will be the quarterback this season and in the future.
And if Brees does remain part of the long-term plan, it needs to put together the perfect draft plan to help support him and get to a Super Bowl before his time expires. Ideally, that would mean drafting players — at least in the early rounds — who could potentially fill roles at positions of need next season.
That would mean defensive end and tackle, guard or wide receiver in the first three rounds. A case could also be made for a cornerback or the right linebacker. But ideally, at least in the first round, it will not be a player projected to serve in a deep reserve role.
When you have a 37-year-old quarterback and are looking to win before his window closes, to a certain degree, one eye should be on the right now, which means plugging gaps and addressing needs. But it also wouldn’t be wise to abandon the principles that throughout the league are proven to lead to long-term success.
In other words, that doesn’t mean the Saints should start reaching for players to fill a need or some who might have a more clearly defined role right away just because there’s urgency to win with Brees every season. If New Orleans sees a player with major upside who might be somewhat blocked for a season or needs a little bit of time to develop, it has and always will be best to look at what will be best over the next four or five years as opposed to the limited view of this season.
And it doesn’t sound like the Saints are going to go away from taking the best players available.
“I do think we’re in a similar position this year where we have some wants and desires, but I think we also have the flexibility to take someone who is the best-graded player if that’s the spot that we end up in,” Loomis said.
It’s hard to marry those philosophies when the age of your quarterback suggests that each year should be an all-in effort. But if he is extended, acquiring the best talent, regardless of how critical the need is right now, will result in having the strongest possible roster in the future. And that could be a future when Brees in pushing or in his 40s and needs a little more help than is required right now.
It will be said that consecutive 7-9 finishes make this draft more urgent than in other years. That’s a fallacy. The draft is always urgent, and there is always pressure to get things right, whether you’re 4-12, 7-9 or 12-4. Pulling in quality players from the cloud is always a priority.
The fact is, if you’re looking for rookies to get you over the hump, chances are the hump is already too large to overcome.
So now, as it’s always been, the perfect draft is riding the cloud that will produce some contributions now and carry you to a brighter future.