Disappointing results often lead to sweeping changes.
The Saints should end up as an outlier in that equation.
Last year’s 7-9 finish was different than the one New Orleans just completed. That finish was the result of a dysfunctional locker room and underachieving players, who were traded away, cut or exiled by whatever means necessary.
This group has promise and youth on its side. The front office and coaching staff feels good about the direction of the team. Sweeping changes shouldn’t be made — at least not ones that leave people scratching their heads in confusion or surprise — like last offseason.
There should only be some tweaks and fat trimming from the current personnel.
And as far as new faces go, well, there’s certainly room for some of those, especially on defense.
Here’s a look at where things currently stand within each position group:
Signing Drew Brees to an extension so his $30 million cap charge can be spread out over the next few seasons would be the best move for this team in the short term. But it’s not an ideal scenario when looking at things through a long-term prism.
If New Orleans signs Brees to an extension to lower his cap number in 2016, that means it will likely be staring down this barrel when the quarterback is pushing 40. In other words, it will be costly to walk away from him when he’s potentially declining and no longer worth the money his contract demands. But considering the window for success under Brees is only going to stay open for a few more seasons, this seems necessary.
At the backup spots, New Orleans is likely hoping Garrett Grayson is ready to step up and claim the backup role. The Saints could also bring back a veteran as a safety net and to compete with Grayson. If all goes to plan, the second-year player will win the job and save New Orleans a roster spot.
The Saints are going to have decisions to make here.
They need to figure out what to do with Khiry Robinson (restricted free agent), Tim Hightower (unrestricted) and Travaris Cadet (unrestricted). All three players are worthy of a roster spot, but it’s difficult to see how they all return.
Only one of Robinson or Hightower will serve as Mark Ingram’s backup, while Cadet would be in the mix to serve as the “passing back.” But with C.J. Spiller and Marcus Murphy, both of whom are “passing backs,” on the roster, Cadet could have trouble sticking around. New Orleans also needs to decide if Spiller is worth his $4.5 million price tag.
Spiller never got fully back to form following knee surgery late in training camp, but Cadet was more productive as the passing back late in the season.
The other thing to consider is how much it’s worth investing at this position after Ingram emerged as a three-down back last season.
There is a good deal of optimism surrounding the future of this position with Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead (exclusive rights free agent) at the top of the depth chart. Cooks took the next step in his development last season, and Snead came out of nowhere and almost finished the year with 1,000 yards.
If Brandon Coleman can take the next step in his development, New Orleans could have a strong young stable of receivers.
The big question this offseason is what to do with Marques Colston. Though he can still succeed based on his chemistry with Brees and ability to freelance routes to get open, he’s well into his physical decline and might not be worth his $5.9 million cap figure in 2016.
If the Saints move on from Colston, it would not be a surprise if the organization attempts to add another player at this position for either depth or a developmental option.
Ben Watson and Michael Hoomanwanui are both scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency, and Josh Hill is due to become a restricted free agent, putting this position in a state of flux. That means the Saints do not have a single inline tight end under contract.
The three other tight ends on the roster — Chris Manhertz, Jack Tabb and Rashaun Allen — are all unproven players. If New Orleans does not retain its free agents, it’s going to have to figure out how to restock the shelves. From this viewpoint, the Saints need to figure out a way to retain Watson. He was extremely productive last season and played a key role in the passing attack.
Hoomanawanui gave the Saints a lot of formational flexibility and was a solid blocker. Losing him could hurt the Saints’ ability to disguise their formations based on the personnel on the field.
This position went from a “want” to a “must” following the release of Jahri Evans earlier this week. Instead of looking for someone to compete at guard and potentially groom for a starting role, New Orleans now needs to find players to compete at both spots.
Tim Lelito, who is a restricted free agent, could lock down one of those spots if he develops some consistency. But that leaves one spot open.
At tackle, the Saints need to decide if it’s worth bringing Zach Strief back if Andrus Peat is deemed ready to take over the starting role. New Orleans could also look to add a swing tackle to serve as depth. If Strief is willing to rework his contract and is no longer viewed as the starter, he could be an option for that role.
While New Orleans has decent depth at several spots on the line, upgrades could be made at five-technique defensive end, three-technique defensive tackle and nose tackle. If the Saints like, they could even acquire another player to play the Jack position and move Cam Jordan back to five-technique.
Whatever the case, this team needs to find a way to create a better pass rush from both the interior and the edges.
Improving against the run is also a major key for this defense.
Jordan was the only consistent presence last season. Players such as Kasim Edebali, Bobby Richardson and Tyeler Davison will provide solid depth. But when those players are at the top of the depth chart, it leaves something to be desired.
The Saints already took care of some business at this position by letting go of David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber and restructuring the contract of Dannell Ellerbe.
Theoretically, New Orleans has some talent at the top of the depth chart with Hau’oli Kikaha, Stephone Anthony and Ellerbe serving as the top linebackers.
What New Orleans needs to do is find better depth to serve behind those players and potentially add another weakside linebacker who can compete with Ellerbe.
Considering Ellerbe only played six games last season, New Orleans can’t be left without a safeguard at that position. It tried that last year and was one of the major reasons this defense struggled throughout the season.
New Orleans will alleviate some of its issues when Brandon Browner is eventually officially released. By getting him off the roster, it means the Saints will have to commit to finding another answer opposite Delvin Breaux at cornerback.
If Keenan Lewis returns to form following a series of surgeries on his hip, New Orleans will have a formidable 1-2 punch at cornerback. This group will be even better if Damian Swann and P.J. Williams also return to form following injuries.
Given some of the uncertainty at this spot, it could serve the Saints well to add another cornerback for depth. It looks like the Saints will once again go with Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd at safety. Another body could be used at this spot for depth and flexibility.
If all goes to plan and players remain healthy, the secondary should improve next season.