The internal gaze is now shifting outward.
The last month has been a period of self-evaluation, spent figuring out what pieces fit, which ones do not and what is missing. Now, with the NFL scouting combine on the horizon, the Saints and the rest of league will start putting together a plan on how to address needs.
New Orleans doesn't have a lot of work to do. After finishing 11-5 and making the playoffs, the team has a good, young core that should continue to get better and keep the organization competitive. Outside of retaining quarterback Drew Brees, who could become a free agent March 14, there isn't anything the team has to do. There are, however, a lot of areas where the Saints could stand to get better.
With that in mind, here's a look at some of the things we would do if we were in control of the organization.
It only took three quarters for Drew Brees to silence his critics.
Find someone who can cover tight ends
New Orleans is going to have to figure out how to defend against tight ends next season if Kenny Vaccaro hits the road. The defense was surprisingly capable in this regard last season, ranking first in the NFL with 577 yards receiving allowed to tight ends last season.
Vaccaro, who typically matches up with the league's better offerings at the position, was a catalyst to success. If he departs, there isn't another obvious option to fulfill the role. This hasn't been something Vonn Bell has often been asked to do, and there isn't a clear answer at linebacker, though it's possible Alex Anzalone could be an option.
New Orleans could sign another player who could handle it or become more scheme dependent on how it pairs up against tight ends. Another possibility, and it might admittedly be a stretch, is to have Delvin Breaux match up with players like Greg Olsen or Zach Ertz, assuming the cornerback sticks around.
The New Orleans Saints were tied for third in the NFL in big plays this season, according to Washington Post statistics that defined a big pla…
Add an offensive weapon
The Saints believed their offense was potent enough last offseason that they traded away wide receiver Brandin Cooks with the belief he could be replaced by the cheaper Ted Ginn Jr. and the attrition would be minimal.
In some respects, they were correct. Ginn did well enough as a Cooks replacement, and the offense remained explosive with the help of running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. But it wasn't as explosive as it could have been because of the ineffective season Willie Snead endured. The third-down offense was as bad as it has ever been under Sean Payton, and it was clear something was missing.
That piece could be a tight end. It could be another wide receiver. What was clear is the offense needs another playmaker who can work over the middle and run intermediate routes. The answer could be Snead or maybe even Austin Carr. However, it might not hurt to bring in an external option either through the draft or via trade.
It might be out of reach now that he was given the franchise tag, and it takes two parties to consummate a deal, but we've been led to believe Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry would have liked to return home if he reached free agency.
Re-sign Drew Brees
This one almost feels like a formality at this point. All signs point to the team getting a deal done, and the ball should get rolling next week at the combine.
Hopefully, New Orleans finds a way to make that happen without adding too much to the $18 million in dead money that is set to hit the books now. Even better if it finds a way to eat some of that cost now.
A mock draft at this juncture isn't worth a whole lot.
Tender Snead and Breaux
Two years ago, it looked like Snead and Breaux were going to be pillars of this organization for the foreseeable future. The picture has changed drastically.
Snead couldn't get involved in the offense last season, and Breaux missed another season because of injuries. Both players could reach free agency if they are not tendered by the Saints. And while neither played a large part in getting New Orleans back to the playoffs last season, they possess too much talent just to give them away.
The Saints should offer tenders to both players and figure out if they can return to form before pulling the plug. It wouldn't cost much, and the upside outweighs the risk of burning a few dollars.
Add a slot cornerback
The other byproduct of potentially losing Vaccaro is that the team will need to figure out how to defend in the slot. P.J. Williams did a good enough job at the position, but there's a reason Vaccaro played ahead of him in that role last season.
As a whole, the Saints surrendered 94 catches on 134 targets for 1,283 yards to slot receivers. The secondary was good last season, perhaps even the strength of the defense, but this is one area where it could continue to seek improvement.
Clear out some cap space
The Saints are still waiting to find out what will happen with Nick Fairley. That move could give the team a little bit of wiggle room with how it wants to approach the offseason.
There are some other cost-cutting moves, including the contract of Coby Fleener. A large portion of his salary became guaranteed last month, but that might not put him in the clear. It's hard to imagine the Saints are comfortable having him count $8 million against the salary cap given his production the past two seasons.
Thomas Morstead is entering the final year of his contract, and if he remains part of the team's long-term plans, it would make sense to sign him to an extension to lower his cap hit of $4.85 million. His cap figure is currently the highest in the NFL among punters for 2018 by more than $1 million.
If offensive tackle Zach Strief retires it would clear another $2.75 million from the books. However, the Saints would likely welcome him back at his figure of $3.875 million.
Other areas to address
- Pass rusher will remain on this list until someone who can complement Cam Jordan is found. Alex Okafor looked like an answer, but he suffered a torn Achilles and is now a free agent. This one should be higher on the list, but it's a known need that doesn't require much explanation.
- New Orleans could continue to look for playmakers at linebacker. The group was better last season, but there's room for improvement.
- Tyeler Davison has done well at nose tackle, but the run defense was quietly an issue last season, and some competition would be welcome at that spot.
- Finding a more consistent punt returner wouldn't hurt.
- The Saints could use some help on the offensive line if Senio Kelemete signs elsewhere and Strief retires. Even if only one those things happen, depth still might be an issue.
- New Orleans could use some more depth at safety if it plans to run three-safety sets next season.
The New Orleans Saints won the NFC South in 2017 despite facing the NFL's eighth-hardest schedule, a slate of opponents that looked relatively…