After missing out on the playoffs with a lowly 7-9 record, there are plenty of areas where the Saints can improve this offseason. Below are my detailed suggestions, which include getting ridding of a much beloved player.
As all of Who Dat Nation knows, the porous Saints defense is the most glaring portion of the team that needs to be fixed. But the defense isn't the only part that has its flaws. What has been arguably the most powerful offense in the past seven years is not perfect anymore. Let's take a look at team needs in order of priority.
1. The Secondary
In 2009, the Saints' secondary was a group of ball-hawking, physical defenders. In 2012, they were a bunch of scrubs. The finished 29th in touchdown passes allowed, 31st in passing yards allowed, and dead last in yards per pass completion. Those numbers are pathetic. One positive is that they finished 14th in number of interceptions. They didn't get enough to compensate for the yardage allowed though.
The starters in the secondary were repeatedly burnt for deep plays due to lack of size and physicality. Honestly any of them could let go and the defense wouldn't miss them one bit. A couple big, physical corners or safeties need to be added to this roster.
2. The Front Four
For a group of starters that is made up of all first round draft picks, they underperform mightily. They generate minimal to no pass rush and are not very physical. Out of all of the big men, Cam Jordan, Junior Galette, and Broderick Bunkley were the lone bright spots. Rookie Akiem Hicks didn't play a lot, but he figures to promising in the future.
In order to stiffen this group up, a superior pass rusher needs to be brought in opposite Cam Jordan. I would rather this be done through the draft because of the defensive talent this year, but if they find a gem through free agency I wouldn't be upset. Another run stuffer to replace Sedrick Ellis wouldn't hurt either.
3. A True, Starting Running Back
Ranking this "need" this high might come as a surprise to some, but it is pretty crucial. The Saints' "Running Back by Committee" approach worked in 2011, but in 2012 it didn't. Teams caught on to each of the running backs' roles and were able to neutralize them. The surplus of healthy runners was nice, but they were not much of a factor.
To fix this the Saints could do a number of things. In theory, they could trade away or cut any one running back from this team. In my opinion. And I hate to say it, but it should be Pierre Thomas. Pierre has been a wonderful player for the Saints, but he has less of a ceiling than the others. Darren Sproles is one of the most dynamic players in the league and he has to stay. Mark Ingram started off the season slow, but he was able to bounce back with some impressive games in the end. He should have a promising 2013 season. And then there's the mysterious Chris Ivory. He is a slashing, aggressive runner that has a lot of the intangibles that relate to Adrian Peterson. He was barely used this season, but he might have been the most impressive Saints runner. Next year he needs to be unleashed and needs to be the starter. Getting rid of Pierre will clear up some room to give him more carries.
4. Offensive Tackle
The reason this category isn't the offensive line as a whole is because of the superiority of the Saints interior line. Jahri Evans was recently selected to his fourth straight All-Pro honor and Ben Grubbs has filled in for Carl Nicks nicely. Brian de la Puente isn't too shabby himself. The tackles, though, are expendable. Four different right tackles started for the team this season due to injuries. Jermon Bushrod is also due for a big pay day, a sort of salary that the Saints don't normally give to tackles.
It wouldn't be a bad idea for the Saints to invest in some young lineman. Zach Strief should be traded and Bushrod might not get the money that he wants. This need isn't too drastic, but it's important in keeping Drew Brees healthy.
5. Wide Receiver/Tight End
This year the Saints' receivers and tight ends were plagued by "the drops". Jimmy Graham led the league in drops with 13, and Marques Colston wasn't far behind with 6. These guys definitely need to work on fundamentals during the offseason.
As far as roster moves, Devery Henderson needs to go. He was a complete non-factor in the latter half of the season and does not need to get paid. His replacement needs to be Joe Morgan. He shined like a star in 2012, but like Chris Ivory, was not used too much. I see big things for him in 2013. The Saints will also have Nick Toon back from injury and the newly added speedster Saalim Hakim next year, so depth should not be an issue.
I would like to see another tight end on the team, though. Jimmy Graham is obviously going to stay, but a dual-threat combination like the New England Patriots have would be deadly. Getting another tight end with good hands and good blocking skills isn't a drastic need, but it would definitely help the Saints' offensive attack.