The Saints' quest toward improving upon the worst defense in NFL history hit a potential major road block in the first day of free agency as offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod bolted for the Windy City and the Chicago Bears.
As the protector of Drew Brees's blindside, Bushrod held one of the most important positions on the team. The task of keeping Brees upright is made even more important now that Chase Daniel has left for Kansas City to become the Chiefs starting quarterback.
Throughout the off-season, the burning question among Who Dat Nation has been: Who will be brought in to upgrade the defense? Upon being reinstated after serving his year-long suspension, Sean Payton took the first step in this process by hiring Rob Ryan, who had just gotten booted out of Jerry's World, to replace the disaster that was Steve Spagnuolo. The high profile hiring of the outspoken Ryan, who will remake the defense into a 3-4 alignment, has not come without criticism, as he has had mixed results during previous stops with the Browns, Raiders and Cowboys.
Equipped with a new leader and new scheme, the next piece of the puzzle for the Saints defense is the most anticipated. It is also what keeps me reading mock drafts until all hours of the night. The curiosity gripping the majority of the world was answered yesterday when the white smoke started rising from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, but mine will continue to linger until April 25th when the Saints make their first round draft selection.
It has been assumed that the Saints will naturally go with a defensive player, which would be the logical thing to do after finishing with the worst defense in NFL history. In order for the Saints to turn their sole Super Bowl win into a dynasty, the defense needs it's own version of Drew Brees. Joe Montana had Ronnie Lott, and Brees needs his own defensive superstar counterpart. Will one of the many outside linebackers that the Saints have been projected to draft still be around at 15th overall and will he be the next Rickey Jackson?
The loss of Bushrod, however, could force the Saints to change their draft priorities, or what we as fans assume them to be. If Payton and Mickey Loomis do not feel comfortable that Charles Brown will be able to fill the void left by Bushrod, finding a capable new blindside protector for Brees could become their new top draft priority.
The Saints defense was weak at every position in 2012, but does Bushrod's departure now mean that drafting a run-stuffing interior lineman, speed rushing outside linebacker, shutdown corner, or strong safety without any gray hair become a secondary concern? Instead of imagining what Jarvis Jones, Dion Jordan, of Kenny Vaccaro would look like in Black & Gold, should we start mentally preparing ourselves for a trade into the top 10 to grab offensive tackles Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson?
In case you haven't noticed, Payton tends to focus on the offense.