There is never a dull moment in a New Orleans Saints off-season and, like clockwork, this one got started off with a bang. Or would it be a fire? Either way, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was shown the door just about as soon as Sean Payton walked back through it.
And replacing him with Rob Ryan? Changing defensive schemes?
Yeah, this offseason is about to get real nutty, but would it be any different than the past few years of Saints off-seasons? Nope.
Every time you think that Payton and Mickey Loomis don't have any wiggle room with the cap to sign any superior talent through free agency, here comes the Curtis Lofton, Darren Sproles and Ben Grubbs signings. So do I think there will be some surprises? That answer is yes. But what will happen?
Here are my bold predictions for New Orleans' venture into the unknown of what is the NFL "slow" season.
1. Brian de la Puente will be signed away from the Black & Gold.
From where I was watching during the 2012 season, it looked like Drew Brees was getting a lot of pressure coming straight up the middle, but my friends over at Pro Football Focus think otherwise. They had De la Puente ranked as the second-best center in the league. I am all for admitting when I am wrong, but second? Wow.
That could be one of the main reasons that De la Puente, a restricted free agent who wasn't drafted, is probably going to get scooped by a contender (Green Bay, maybe?) with a nice-sized signing sheet that the cap-strapped Saints truly can't afford. Depending on which tender they use on him (Don't expect a first or first-and-third one.), the second-year starter would probably signed without any compensation back to New Orleans.
The only way they can secure him is by tendering him with a second round mark and working a trade if someone offers him a big contract. Stranger things have happened. Just look at how LeCharles Bentley scooted out of town.
2. The Saints sign a high-end free agent...on offense.
We all know how crafty Loomis is. Sometimes a little too crafty - ahem, Johnny Patrick - but it wouldn't shock me at all if he splashed into the deep end of the free agency pool. It just might be on the offensive side of things.
The defensive talent in free agency is enticing, especially with players the likes of an Ed Reed or Anthony Spencer, but the Saints could go the "lesser-known" route and pick up guys like Victor Butler, Keenan Lewis and Larry Grant to fill out the defense. Those guys might be alright players, but none would be a "splash".
The "splash" will probably come at offensive tackle with New Orleans setting their sights high on a Branden Albert or Ryan Clady and shock the Who Dat Nation, like the Jim Haslett regime did when they signed Wayne Gandy. Jermon Bushrod was ranked as the 25th-best LT in the NFL last year by Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. Clady was fifth and Albert thirteenth in those same rankings.
They all would command high salaries, but you know who wouldn't? Will Beatty of the New York Giants. He would probably get about the same money as Bushrod would be asking for, but raise the play of that position exponentially.
3. Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith are on the team, but Roman Harper isn't.
Vilma and Smith have been asked to restructure already, and I see them taking the reduced deals and joining Payton on their little "revenge" tour. But Harper? Not so much. Even though he is not a free agent, his cap figure is one of the highest on the team and could be a cap casualty. Or he could be traded.
Either way, I see Harper not suiting up with the Black & Gold in 2013. The other two would definitely not be starters next year, so I don't know why they would want to come back, but they would both be a great presence in the locker room.
4. Brodrick Bunkley and David Hawthorne are the next cap casualties.
David Thomas and Johnny Patrick being released combined with the front office asking for restructuring of veterans contracts can only mean that the madness has just begun with the Black and Gold. The Saints have cut bait faster before, so why not after a schematic change that would, possibly, be a bad fit for Bunkley, or because a player just won't stay healthy.
Their combined cap figure is $9.46 million dollars. For a couple players who don't fit the new direction of the team (when healthy Hawthorne is, but he's only been healthy for a full season once), that seems like a lot of money.
5. One of the Saints "coveted" running backs will be traded, but it won't be who you think.
By this time, we know that New Orleans has a stable of running backs that would even make Les Miles blush up the road in Baton Rouge, but who stays and who goes? This has been the hottest button issue around New Orleans since the alleged bounty.
That is where the real heated debate comes in. Pierre Thomas is a proven player. He's tough and durable. Besides his rookie year, he never played less than 14 games in a season but once. He is also dependable. Whenever the Saints needed a clutch catch or carry, more often than not, Thomas came through.
However, the Saints front office is probably looking at Thomas approaching that 30-year mark and getting a little antsy. Even though the consummate pro is not worn down like a normal back his age, he still is not as solid as he was during that Super Bowl year of 2009.
For all of those 2-yard gains that Mark Ingram seemed to grab this past year, he averaged around four yards a pop and stayed healthy for the entire year. I know, I'm shocked as well. Ingram is Payton's baby, and he won't be getting rid of him after only an injury-shortened rookie year together. That puts Thomas and his $2.5 million cap hit up for any team who needs a back.
Sorry, Who Dat Nation.