In New Orleans, the passing yards and passing touchdowns continue to highlight the dynamic Saints offense. Drew Brees finished the regular season second in the NFL with 5,162 passing yards and 39 passing TDs, falling short to only Peyton Manning and his record setting numbers. Brees was also second in the league in completions, as the passing game once again dominated as the focal point of an offense that just couldn't seem to find its balance for much of the season.
Since 2011, the emergence of the beast Jimmy Graham and dynamo speedster Darren Sproles have taken the ball out of the wide receivers' hands more often than it did during the era prior to their arrival. Of course, that is to be expected considering how valuable both men have been to the passing game up to this point. But in 2013, there was a huge drop off in wide receiver production versus the previous years.
*In the chart below, the percentages reflect what amount of each category the wide receivers were responsible for versus the total team production. The total numbers represent the production of just the wide receivers in each statistical category.
|2013||164 (36.8%)||2,433 (47.1%)||14 (35.9%)|
|2012||185 (43.7%)||2,943 (56.7%)||20 (46.5%)|
|2011||206 (43.6%)||2,924 (53,1%)||24 (52.2%)|
|2010||235 (52.2%)||2,967 (64.0%)||21 (63.6%)|
|2009||181 (47.9%)||2,759 (61.4 %)||22 (64.7%)|
|2008||181 (43.8%)||2,932 (57.8%)||22 (64.7%)|
|2007||219 (49.8%)||2,831 (64.0%)||21 (75.0%)|
|2006||169 (45.4%)||2,955 (63.9%)||21 (77.8%)|
Since the arrival of Brees and Payton, the wide receivers achieved season low totals in 2013 in every major statistical category, while being responsible for the lowest percentage of total output in those categories as well. So what went wrong? Does it have to do with the decrease in arm strength of Drew Brees? Is it the play calling? Is it pass protection? Are the wide receivers to blame? Whatever it is, notice that the total numbers between 2006 and 2012 are pretty consistent all the way across the board. Then in 2013, we see a pretty big drop off. Something has to change. Let's take a look at the wide receivers that had the least productive season of the Payton/Brees era.
Marques Colston: signed through 2016
Age To Start 2014: 31
2014 Cap Hit: $8,300,000
In what many considered a down year, The Quiet Storm managed to catch 75 passes for 943 yards and 5 TDs. Excluding his injury shortened 2008 season, it was the first time that Colston played more than 14 games and failed to hit the 1,000 yard receiving mark. While Colston did play through injury in 2013, the normally consistent 6'4" target did not see more than 8 passes come his way until week 14. In his first 11 regular season games, Colston only had 47 catches for 596 yards and 2 TDs. From week 14 on (4 games), Colston had 28 catches for 347 yards and 3 TDs. The 31 year old showed that he still has plenty left in the tank, confirming that fact with a huge 11 catch, 144 yard, 1 TD performance against the Super Bowl Champion (ugh!) Seattle Seahawks. Colston restructured his deal in 2013, so the Saints are already invested heavily into Colston for the next 3 seasons. At this point, I don't know if the Saints can do too much to free up any money off of his big contract. Even in a down season, Colston caught twice as many passes as any other wide receiver. He's still their number one guy.
Lance Moore: signed through 2015
Age To Start 2014: 31
2014 Cap Hit: $5,068,750
If Colston had a down year, then Lance Moore's season has to be considered a train wreck. Excluding his injury shortened season in 2009, Moore's 37 receptions for 457 yards and 2 TDs were his lowest output since 2007, when he was technically the team's #4 WR. Moore had a total of two games with more than 4 catches and three games with more than 50 yards. I was pretty surprised that he was not a bigger part of this offense, considering the preseason injury to Joseph Morgan, the lack of progress shown by Nick Toon, and the rookie growing pains shown at times by Kenny Stills. Even though the Saints have depended upon Moore's solid route running in years' past, he was simply a forgotten man for most of 2013. Saints fans have to wonder if Lance Moore will be a Saint in 2014, as the 5+ million dollar cap hit is a big one for a guy who produced so little for this team in 2013. If the Saints were to cut Moore (which could happen), the team would save $2,531,250 in 2014, but would also owe Moore $1,268,750 in 2015. Another restructuring of his contract could be possible, but it would come with some risks later on down the road, especially if he puts up another dud season.
Kenny Stills: signed through 2016
Age To Start 2014: 22
2014 Cap Hit: $543,613
In his rookie season, our favorite cross dressing wide receiver showed potential as a deep target with the ability to make some big plays. Of Stills' 32 receptions, 4 of them were for over 50 yards. Stills was actually second among wide receivers and third on the team in total receiving yards with 641. His future looks bright and is only expected to improve in his second season as a Saint. Assuming a healthy return from Joseph Morgan, it will be interesting to see how the Saints use the two of them together.
Robert Meachem: unrestricted free agent
Age To Start 2014: 29 (will be 30 on Sept. 28)
2014 Cap Hit: N/A
To the surprise of some Saints fans, the return of Robert Meachem not only lasted the entire 2013 season, but he also played in every game from week 2 on. In the 12 games in which Meachem was targeted, he had at least one catch and averaged over 20 yards per reception. The former first round pick only cost the Saints $715,000 in 2013 so don't be completely shocked if Meachem is brought back with a similar deal in 2014. However, the Saints could have looked at Meachem as a fill in for Morgan and may want to pursue more of a possession receiver to fit in with the other receivers remaining on the roster. I still think he will get his shot to make this team in preseason because he knows this offense and proved that he still has the ability to create some special moments even if he's inconsistent. Oh, and he'll probably be cheap. And cheap is good for this team right now.
Joseph Morgan: restricted free agent
Age To Start 2014: 26
2014 Cap Hit: N/A
While I have mentioned Morgan and his possible impact on the offense in 2014, he is still a restricted free agent. Morgan has missed 2 of the last 3 seasons due to injury, but showed great speed and play making ability in 2012. I think he gets another shot with the Saints on a short term deal, to prove that he can be the difference maker that the Saints are hoping for next season. And let's not forget, the guy has shown flashes of being a capable return man in preseason as well, which is a spot that the Saints desperately need to fill.
Nick Toon: signed through 2015
Age To Start 2014: 25 (will be 26 in November)
2014 Cap Hit: $671,903
After playing in just 8 games in 2013, Nick Toon's days may be numbered. Even when Colston and Moore missed time due to injury, the 6'4" Toon was unable to take advantage. He will need to come out strong in 2014 or else son of Al may be sent packing.
Free Agents And The NFL Draft
Since the end of what was arguably the worst Super Bowl ever, the mock draft talks have already heated up. While most mocks have the Saints leaning towards a linebacker, defensive linemen, or offensive linemen, I have heard and seen some suggest that the Saints may have to take a hard look at some of the 1st round talent at wide receiver. One of the names that I keep seeing pop up is Kelvin Benjamin, the giant 6'5" 235 lbs WR out of Florida State. While he is considered "raw", the guy has the physical tools to be a significant play maker at the next level. The Saints don't exactly have the best of luck with 1st round wide receivers (see Donte Stallworth and Robert Meachem), but it would be exciting to have a big and strong receiver lined up with Colston and Graham. The Saints could decide to wait on a receiver until the mid rounds of the draft or possibly even pursue a free agent if the price is right. Guys like Brandon Lafell and Andre Roberts come to mind as guys who could possibly fit in to this offense, especially if Moore is gone.
The Saints still have plenty of talented play makers at the wide receiver position, but they need to become a bigger part of the offense in 2014. I would like to see another big wide receiver (Benjamin?) added to the roster. I think it would compliment the speed guys (Stills and Morgan) and give Drew another big target to see when he's tippy toeing in the pocket. It is time to think about getting a little younger at the position anyways, so maybe adding another new face to Drew's crew in 2014 is exactly what this offense needs.