Associated Press file photo by MICHAEL CONROY -- Saints cornerback Champ Bailey

The perils of diving into the deep end of the free-agency pool are well documented.

There isn’t a chlorine strong enough to neutralize the stagnant regret that attaches itself to those brave enough to dive in headfirst. And often times those regrets turn into undertows and pull the brave organizations to the bottom of the pool.

But the Saints don’t have a choice. They have too many holes and too many needs to sit back and be observers. They have to pull their goggles on and try to navigate the murky waters for the gems who might be able to help this 7-9 team turn back into a Super Bowl contender.

The first place general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton should look for help is at cornerback. The luxury of drafting and developing disappeared at some point last season when the current group was in the process of surrendering 4,019 passing yards.

Not all of that falls on the cornerbacks. Some of it was the result of spotty safety play or the lack of a pass rush, but it was apparent this team had issues covering wide receivers and had no answers as Patrick Robinson, Corey White and Terrence Frederick were paraded through the No. 2 cornerback spot.

It’s somewhat surprising the team is in this position when a year ago the brass felt this was a position of strength. The Saints felt bullish enough about their depth that they drafted Stanley Jean-Baptiste in the second round, fully knowing it would take him at least a year to develop.

Then they found out in training camp that Champ Bailey really was 36 years old and had nothing left in the tank. That forced New Orleans to turn to the likes of White, Robinson and Frederick, who all had moments but could not consistently lock down the spot opposite Keenan Lewis.

The Saints could look to the draft to solidify this spot or gamble on Jean-Baptiste or CFL import Delvin Breaux being ready to claim that job. But gambling and a false sense of confidence is why this discussion is taking place today.

The smart play — the only play — is jumping in that water and pulling out a player who is a proven commodity. That’s how this team landed Lewis and Jabari Greer before him. It’s time to walk that path again.

If New Orleans goes to the draft or stands pat, it risks missing again. And another miss at this position, which has become one of the most important in football, likely means another year of mediocrity.

The caliber of player the Saints can afford to sign is not clear. We’re still a few days away from knowing what the financial situation will look like and how much money New Orleans has to play with. Maybe someone like former Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell is out of their range. But someone, somewhere, will emerge as a viable option. The Saints need to be ready to pounce.

Maybe, just maybe, the new addition works out and Jean-Baptiste and Breaux both emerge as viable options. Maybe in a few years we’ll talk about how the money spent on this position was a waste. If that’s the case, it will be a good thing.

After the miscalculations of last offseason, operating in excess will be a welcomed development. Because the opposite of excess means watching the secondary flounder.

Who wants to sit through that again?

It’s time to be honest about the position. There’s one proven player at the top in Lewis and a group of guys who are not yet proven. It’s time to dive in and risk getting pulled down by an undertow — as long as the risk is intelligently calculated.

It’s better than sitting back and suffocating in a lounge chair.