Saints have done a great job so far preparing to make the best team possible for this year. Next year will be another issue as the Saints are already slated to be approximately 15 million over the cap for 2014 depending on the cap salary ceiling in 2014. For now let's just focus on 2013, though. By the end of the offseason, I project the Saints to get through this year's cap situation with flying colors. I have the utmost faith in the Saints front office, but here is what I would do if i were Tom Benson, Mickey Loomis, or Sean Payton:
Cut Roman Harper. Harper is due to count $7.1 million against the cap this year....that's outrageous. He will be the 6th highest paid safety this year, and is also due $7.9 million next year. According to Pro Football Focus, Harper graded out as the worst cover safety in the league last year and graded out as the second worst safety out of 88 eligible players (Side note: Malcolm Jenkins was in fact the one safety who graded out lower than Roman Harper overall).
Despite Harper's poor play especially relative to salary, the more important idea here is freeing up more cap room. We would owe Harper $1.85 million if we cut him. That frees up $5.25 million in cap space.
The next move should be to pull the trigger on Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie is a short term solution to the Saints' LT situation, but this is a year we really need to focus on defense. We have enough room to sign him to a 1 year deal worth as high as $4 million, but hopefully we can get him for as low as $2 million considering his age. This would set the Saints up to have McKinnie as the starting LT, Brown and Strief can compete for the RT job, the loser is our 3rd OT, and Marcel Jones (2012 7th round pick) and William Robinson as backups.
The next step is the draft. It's too hard to predict accurate trades, so for now I'm going to assume the Saints get 5 picks in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th.
In the 1st round the Saints should select Kenny Vaccaro, FS/SS from University of Texas. Vaccaro is an insanely versatile guy who is extremely physical and can do it all. He's played man-to-man on slot receivers, played as the deep safety in both cover 1 and cover 3 schemes, and has also played in the box. In this situation we would want him to play SS due to the departure of Roman Harper. The Saints elect to keep 5 safeties on their roster: Vacarro, Jenkins, Leonhard, Abdul-Quddus, and Bush.
In the 3rd round the Saints should select a CB. I'm less specific about the player because of how deep CB and S are this year. I went with Vaccaro in the 1st because he is the consensus best S in this year's draft and we should be in a position to select him at 15th overall. CBs that should be selected int he 3rd round include David Amerson, DJ Hayden, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and none other than Tyrann Mathieu. In my opinion, Amerson is the perfect fit for our system. Amerson has legitimate height at 6'1 and runs a 4.44 and has the ability to get physical. Not to mention this guy is a ball hawk. He had 5 INTs this year and led the nation in 2011 with 13. That is they type of playmaker we need on defense. At CB the Saints elect to keep 5 CBs: Greer, Lewis, Robinson, Amerson, and White.
In the 4th round the Saints should select a NT. This is a key position we need to make sure we lock down. I really love the talent that can be found here from small school prospects Brandon WIlliams (Missouri Southern) and Montori Hughes (Tennessee-Martin). Bunkley is a great run stopper and Hicks also has the physical mold to play here. Hick did well as a pass rushing DT last year though, so he may be kicked out to the 3-tech getting a lot of playing time behind Jordan and Will Smith. Either Williams or Hughes can come in and be Bunkley's primary backup until Bunkley's departure. The Saints elect to keep 7 DL: Will Smith, Jordan, Hicks, Coleman, Anthony Johnson, Bunkley, and Williams/Hughes.
In the 5th round the Saints select Nico Johnson, ILB from Alabama. Nico is a vastly underrated player who could be a big time steal. Bama runs the 3-4 defense and he is very familiar with the ILB role. This position is going to be hard o predict as to who gets playing time in this spot minus Lofton. I believe the Saints will elect to keep 4 ILBs: Lofton, Hawthorne, Chamberlain, and Nico Johnson. (Payton has said he believes Vilma can fit well at the OLB position; I think he will do miserably in this position, but that's not my call).
In the 6th round the Saints select an OLB. At this point we don't know for sure who will and won't be available in the 6th round. But just like in the 5th round, the Saints need to find a sleeper prospect. If either FSU prospect Brandon Jenkins or Illinois prospect Michael Buchanan is there in the 6th round, the Saints need to pull the trigger. both of these guys git the mold to play OLB and could end up becoming big time steals. Before injury, Jenkins was a highly regarded prospect that could have been taken in the 1st round. Due to lack of space on the roster the Saints elect not to keep their 6th round pick on their 53 man roster this year and choose: Butler, Vilma, Galette, and Wilson.
This is my perfect scenario for the Saints that I believe could make them not only playoff contenders but could make a serious run at the SB. The Saints will have to go through big time NFL contenders like GB, SEA, and SF, but with Payton back and a new look to our defense that they're putting together, I have high hopes for the WHO DATS this. year