ESPN Insider Matt Williamson recently released his offseason grades for the NFC and gave the Saints a C-. When I was teaching, that meant you were slightly below average and I'm sure it means the same thing here. My question is: did they base this off just the Saints offseason or their offseason in relation to the rest of the NFL? I believe the latter must be their standard.
In relation to some of the teams that received higher grades, I'd say ESPN was being fair. However, in terms of what areas the Saints needed to improve, I think the team did better than below average work this offseason. Keep reading to see my breakdown of ESPN's grades.
First of all, they didn't mention anything about the coaching staff except that Payton won't be present during the season and that Gregg Williams was replaced. Of course all faithful Who Dats know Payton's suspended for the entire season and the Saints lose Vitt, who has filled his role as the Interim head coach well, for the first six games. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but it may cause issues for the start of the season.
On the bright side, the Saints hired Steve Spagnuolo who is highly regarded as a defensive coordinator. With some of the personnel moves he's already made, it sounds like he's actually taken stock of the players and their different skill sets and designed a scheme that will improve the defense overall.
So even I have to admit the coaching situation is close to a wash so I'd go with a C in this category. I almost gave them a D, but I took into consideration that Carmichael handled a lot of the playcalling duties last year and the coaching staff has worked together for a while with the exception of Spagnuolo. Of course, I don't know if ESPN considers this in their decision making process.
The Draft: B
Since New Orleans didn't get to pick until the 3rd round, most people considered them draft losers before the draft even began. I'm one of the guys that helped research the draft picks and I can say with confidence that looks can be deceiving. They didn't kill it in the draft, but they have some underrated picks that will add depth and value to the positions they play.
Something that has gone unnoticed by most of the mainstream media are the UDFAs the Saints picked up. They've taken in several good players that actually have a chance to make the roster which speaks volumes for the scouting team for the Saints. Again, I don't know if ESPN considered this variable or the fact that the Saints have had success with undrafted players. So in my mind the draft and the UDFAs they've snatched up are factored into my grade for this category.
Maybe I'm being a homer here but I'm giving the Saints a B because I believe they found a couple of UDFA keepers. I'm not naming names yet because I don't want to jinx the players still fighting for a roster spot.
Free Agency: B
Here is what Williamson listed as some key free agency moves for the Saints this offseason:
I don't know how you guys feel, but personally I don't see Luke McCown as a key offensive addition. Nor do I understand how a professional journalist believes this was an important signing. Maybe he knows something about the Drew Brees negotiations...hmmmmm?
Anyway, I don't agree with Shaun Rogers or Jo-Lonn Dunbar as key losses either. I'm thinking Williamson just listed the moves made in free agency and didn't actually consider what additions or losses were "key" or "impact" players. The only player I'm still mourning over is Carl Nicks, but if the reports about Ben Grubbs turn out to be true I'll be able to move on.
I could have sworn I heard somewhere that the Saints linebacking corps and their defensive line had improved this offseason. The secondary is mostly intact minus Tracy Porter, who, while I appreciate his contribution, I've never thought he was an elite corner. I actually believe Patrick Robinson and Johnny Patrick will thrive in Spag's new defense.
Also, I know he's not a big name but Elbert Mack wasn't listed. Did they sign and cut him already? If they haven't cut the man from Tampa Bay I hear he's a decent nickel corner. Ok, let me get off my soapbox. I give the Saints another B for free agency. Unless Brees changes his mind and sits out the season which changes the grade to an F.
In his analysis Williamson probably had a word limit and in my opinion he was regurgitating what he's heard and not what he knows. He also threw in a half-hearted prediction of the Drew Brees' contract signing.
Drew Brees' contract situation remains unsettled, which is somewhat amazing considering how turbulent the Saints' offseason has been. You would think New Orleans would need its leader and face of the franchise to be heavily involved in everything going on with the team now. However, I'm operating under the assumption that Brees will be his normal self -- and have his contract situation resolved -- when the season begins.
Not sure if he's saying Brees is going to skip training camp and show up for the season or if he's just reassuring the audience that Brees will be re-signed. I think I'll operate under the assumption that it's the former option and he sees Brees holding out. Maybe this guy does know something we don't.
I think everyone can agree the Saints have never faced as much drama during the offseason as they have this year. However, the core of the team has come through unscathed save the loss of a clean reputation in the eyes of the football loving world. The players have remained focused (except for Vilma and Smith) on football and learning their role. They've upgraded the defensive line with Bunkley and the linebackers with Lofton, Chamberlain, and Hawthorne. They've moved Martez Wilson to the DE spot and Will Smith has been getting snaps as a DT. Some depth was added to the secondary with Elbert Mack and Corey White along with some UDFAs who may be able to squeeze onto the actual 53-man roster or the practice squad. Porter was signed by Denver, and if the front office let him go it's because they've found new talent that will surpass his level of ability (hopefully).
On the offensive side the Saints lost Carl Nicks and Robert Meacham to free agency, both of whom will be missed. Of course Nicks will be missed more, but I think Ben Grubbs comes as advertised. Meacham was a deep threat but Henderson is still on the roster. They have a lot of young receivers with varying skill sets to choose from, and as long as Brees gets his contract we know they'll have a chance to catch the ball at the very least. In regards to Brees not being at the OTAs or even training camp, should that be the case, Daniels needed the reps with the first team anyway in case Brees gets injured. Many of the offensive players agree that their confidence has grown with Daniels much like his own confidence has probably grown within himself.
Our biggest concern as fans should be the coaching situation which we had a preview of last year when Payton suffered a broken leg. Once Carmichael took control of the offensive playcalling they had no problem moving the ball and scoring points. The defense has been under construction for most of the offseason and as I mentioned before should see a significant improvement from last year.
Overall, I would say the Saints offseason gets a D for drama filled. By adding all the categories I've considered in my evaluation the Saints still score a C. Which is average, but you know it's hard to improve on record breaking performances so don't get disheartened. If I'm accurate in my assessment then the Saints should be strong contenders this year pending a long term Drew Brees contract.