Answering reader questions about the Saints:
@nick_underhill what will it take to actually improve this season: a better free agency or a better draft
— Tyler Raymond (@RaymondTylerM) February 17, 2016
It's all one in the same, right? It doesn't matter how you acquire your players. You just have to make sure you're getting the right players.
In a perfect world, you're building through the draft. This pipeline gives you younger and cheaper players, which in turn allows you to manage the salary cap. Then when it comes time to extend someone, the money is there to make that move.
The Saints prefer to use both avenues. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you aren't taking big swings and misses. I'm fine with them going after guys on the open market. But again, they just have to make sure they're the right guys, and they have a vision for how they'll fit the team.
It sounds easy, I know, and no one ever signs a guy with their eyes closed. But this team can't afford mistakes when living so close to the cap.
@nick_underhill if you were GM how close to healthy would Smith have to be to draft him? (Ex. Projected to miss less than 6 games, etc)
— Robert Fouquet (@RobertFouquet) February 17, 2016
If I'm the general manager of a team, and I have little reason to worry about my job security, then I'm probably not all that worried about how many games Jaylon Smith could miss.
I'd be more interested in building long-term stability. If you have the Notre Dame linebacker graded as a top-five player and believe he will make a full recovery, then I'd be willing to sacrifice a good amount of games during the first season.
I'd have to draw the line somewhere. This team needs immediate help on defense to compete next season. But I'm not sure where the line should exist. Do you think the New York Giants regret drafting Odell Beckham since he missed four games during his rookie season? What if it had been eight? Nine? Ten?
I suppose part of my point of view is made with the assumption that New Orleans will find a way to cover some of their other weaknesses. They'll have to answer some questions before even considering this move.
Can you cover his spot while you wait? Do you believe your defense can sustain without him? Can you correct your other weaknesses to help buy time?
If Dannell Ellerbe is trusted to remain healthy, then the first question has already been answered. The others are yet to be determined.
@nick_underhill so you think they'll actually give Coleman the chance to be Colstons heir apparent?
— Christian Prats (@cprats24) February 17, 2016
Marques Colston first has to move on before that happens. But if he chooses to leave or for some reason isn't brought back, then I think Brandon Coleman should be given the opportunity to win this job.
It was telling to me that after Coleman filled in for Willie Snead during a Week 13 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Saints efforted to get Coleman 25 snaps in each of the next two games against Tampa Bay and Detroit. He then started the last two games while Colston was nursing an injury.
I went back and charted all of his routes from last season so I could provide a better answer here. I'll probably get more in depth on this topic at some point, but here's what I have for Coleman:
Go: 8-13-200 (completion-targets-yards)
It's actually kind of surprising to see how effective Coleman was on vertical routes last season. I wasn't expecting such a disparity in the numbers. He was also very solid when running curl routes. The difference is most of them were on the outside of the field, and not finding soft spots in the zone like Colston.
This is something that is going to take deeper study. But I do think the potential is there for Coleman to do some of the things Colston used to do.
If he steps in it is not going to be like a carbon copy. They're different players, even if they have similarities. That's fine. You adjust to your personnel and find ways to get the most out of it.
And the Saints will find a way to play to Coleman's strengths if he becomes a starter.
@nick_underhill what positions do you see addressed by Loomis/Payton in free agency vs those addressed in the draft?
— P.W. (@RedV_WhoDat) February 17, 2016
I think the team should look to add a veteran guard and possibly a tight end if Ben Watson isn't brought back. If they can find a pass rusher or defensive tackle who make sense, then I'm all for that.
My general feeling is to try to fill all of your needs -- or take the burden off -- in free agency. Teams end up getting into trouble by entering the draft with glaring holes. That's usually the culprit when someone makes a terrible reach somewhere in the draft.
And when I say filling a need, that doesn't necessarily mean going out and finding a superstar. That might mean signing a veteran pass rusher at a discounted rate.
While he suffered an injury and didn't play last season, Anthony Spencer is the type of player who fits the profile. Kevin Williams is another.
@nick_underhill you can get a top flight dt with pr or an elite wlb... Which do you get?
— SheSaidYes!! (@kirus16) February 17, 2016
Let's just say both players are elite. I'm taking the defensive tackle.
Everyone always wants to talk about edge rushers. I think a legitimate interior pass rush can just as disruptive. The quarterback is always going to hurry up when he sees the rush coming at him. He isn't always going to see it coming off the edge.
Those guys also help open up things for players on the edges because it often causes other offensive linemen to chip in.
I've been very vocal about how I think the Saints need to draft a weakside linebacker. I stand by that. But I would veer off that and take the elite defensive tackle if both players are available. Those guys are harder to find and sometimes you have to take the best available player.
And one from my inbox from David:
"I don't have Twitter, but I saw your call for questions on the BR app. My question is: Is Cooks a No. 1 receiver, or do the Saints need to look for one elsewhere, either already on the team, in free agency, or the draft?"
I consider Brandin Cooks a top receiver. Would it be nice to have Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald in their primes? Sure it would. Beckham would also look really good in this offense.
But one of the overlooked strengths of coach Sean Payton is his ability to scheme his players open. Drew Brees also helps in this regard with his ability to help develop receivers.
After previously covering the Patriots and seeing their impatience with receivers who did not quickly pick up the system, one of the things that stood out to me here is how patient Brees and Payton are with these guys.
The other arm to this is that sometimes having an elite target can cause a quarterback to trust talent over scheme at times. If you have a big receiver or tight end, sometimes your quarterback might force a throw to him instead taking the extra beat to allow a passing concept to come together.
Maybe having that safety net isn't a bad thing. But it'd be a luxury more than a need.
This is a long, rambling way to say the Saints don't need a Calvin Johnson. They know how to turn Willie Snead into a 1,000-yard receiver.
And besides, Cooks is a very good receiver who plays an important role in this offense.