After spending the offseason trying to fortify the defense to make sure last season’s woes do not carry over to next season, the New Orleans Saints’ efforts might have been undermined before the training camp even begins.
Junior Galette is reportedly considering surgery to repair an injured pectoral injury that could cause him to miss an extended period of time. As of now, according to the NFL Network, the edge rusher is weighing his options and waiting to see another doctor before deciding how to proceed.
Even if the injury isn’t season ending, losing Galette for any period of time would be a difficult hit for this team to overcome. He has served as the Saints’ most productive pass rusher the last two seasons, finishing 2014 with 10 sacks.
It’s possible that Galette’s role was going to change — and still could if he does not miss time — from how he was used in previous seasons. Late last year, while nursing a knee injury, he was limited to pass-rushing situations, which helped mitigate some of the issues he faces defending the run and better strengthened the defense.
It would not be surprising if New Orleans picked its spots with Galette next season and limited him to situations where he could best succeed. But even under this scenario, which would mean less snaps, it seemed safe to assume that he would be good for at least 10 sacks.
If Galette misses time, that’s a tough number to match, but sacks are only part of the story. According to Pro Football Focus, Galette was on the field in 433 pass-rushing situations and generated pressure 67 times. Based on his percentages, he was the eight-most efficient pass rusher in the NFL last season.
Limiting Galette’s overall snap count and putting him on the field in situations where can fruitfully expend his energy could help him become even more efficient, as well as playing in front of an improved secondary that should give the pass rushers more time to get after the quarterback.
If Galette misses time, it’s doubtful there is anyone or any group of players to be found in house or on the street capable of replacing that kind of production. As general manager Mickey Loomis likes to say, players of that caliber are not hanging out at Winn-Dixie, waiting for someone to come and give them a job.
Still, if Galette is unable to stay on the field, someone is going to have to try to take his place.
The first option for the job would likely be Anthony Spencer, who has been filling in for Galette during organized team activities.
Signed to a one-year prove deal, the 31-year old was brought in on a flier. When he was initially signed, the general feelings was that if he worked out, he worked out. If he didn’t, he didn’t. The same flexibility no longer exists.
Spencer, who has fought injuries in recent years, is still trying to regain the form that allowed him to record 11 sacks in 2012. In 14 games over the last two seasons, he was credited with splitting one sack.
It’s dangerous to assume that he’s going to show up and enjoy the same results he had while playing under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Dallas. But that’s exactly what the Saints might be soon be hoping for if Galette misses time.
Similar hopes and wishes will be made that rookies Hau’oli Kikaha and Davis Tull, and second-year players like Kasim Edebali and Ronald Powell will be ready to contribute in the pass rush. While some of those players come with more promise than others, such as Kikaha, who recorded 19 sacks at the University of Washington last season, there are no guarantees.
One area where potentially losing Galette would hurt the most is in nickel and dime packages. By bringing in players like Kikaha and Spencer, New Orleans created a situation where it could get creative with its personnel in pass-rushing situations. It was easy to envision a scenario where Cam Jordan kicked inside to defensive tackle, with some combination of Galette, Spencer or Kikaha rushing off the edges.
The Saints kicked Jordan inside at times last season and at times found success by placing him there. By doing the same on a more consistent basis next season, it would allow New Orleans to get all of its best pass rushers on the field at the same time.
That may no longer be the case. If Galette misses some time, and the other players on the roster fail to step up, Jordan might be stuck rushing off the edge in these situations next season. In other words, replacing Galette isn’t just a one-for-one proposition. The ramifications of potentially losing him would run deeper.
There will be a lot of hoping and wishing going on. But the biggest hope and wish should be that Galette remains on the field.