Let’s be brutally honest for a second. If you’re a fan of the New Orleans Saints, then you likely have your spirits dampened after witnessing some things during the few weeks of the preseason. Most notably, our concerns lie with the team’s offensive line and pass rush. On the flip side, maybe you are telling yourself, “it’s just the preseason, and the team hasn’t even played a game yet.”
No matter what side of the fence you are on at the moment, let’s just say you are fully justified in your feelings. It’s no longer a question of will they or won’t they deliver. It’s a matter of how they will. Another losing season cannot be in the cards for the Saints, Sean Payton, and Drew Brees.
Let’s evaluate things on the doom scale, which focuses on the biggest problem the Saints have on their hands - the offensive line.
To illustrate the hilarity of things right now, let’s go to Pro Football Focus for a second. Just a month ago, this unit was ranked eighth-best in the league given their statistics and charting from last season. Where has that gone? Furthermore, was it even real?
With my predecessor, I mentioned that there were only three definitive staples on the team’s offensive line heading into this season: Terron Armstead, Max Unger, and Zach Strief. Through our first few games, it’s only been Max Unger - and that’s just being generous in observations. Armstead has not looked like himself, and Strief has not played up to par.
Strief, who has been with the Saints since 2006 and is a well-respected leader within the building, has taken his fair share of criticism for the wrong on the offensive line. But when it boils down to what needs to be done, the answer seems simple.
“I think executing what we’re being asked to do is the biggest issue. It’s every man in that room,” Strief said.
If someone isn’t executing on the chances given to him, then what’s the point of keeping him in the building? This is a unit who gets to protect one of the best quarterbacks the NFL has seen in history, and they get to block for a running back itching to get his first 1,000-yard season. This is an offense that hasn’t finished any lower than 6th in yards since 2006, and that’s not an easy accomplishment.
The view and stance is simple, get someone in there who wants to be there and will give it their all.
Sean Payton alluded to potential change coming the team’s way on Monday, saying “This next week, this next 10-day period there’ll be some good football players that shift from one team to another via a lot of different ways. Be it from trade, be it waiver claims and free agency and I think it’s an important week to focus on for your own club. How do we improve the roster? Then there are some internal solutions. This player needs to play better, this player maybe plays over that player. I think in fairness to the question, the solutions lie two-fold.”
Make no mistake about it, but everyone is paying attention to the cuts that will happen (and have happened). A veteran guard like Geoff Schwartz could easily enter the picture for the Saints, but we have to remember that this is only putting a Band-Aid on things. Schwartz, who recently turned 30, would likely not be a long-term answer for the Saints. If the Saints are truly not satisfied with pieces, then the fix must be made.
Shifting players around could work, as Payton stated that Andrus Peat could be heading to the left side of the line. Of course, it’s only to be a guard. That in itself doesn’t mean particularly good things for Tim Lelito, but could help someone like Senio Kelemete or rookie Landon Turner lock down the right guard spot.
We also can’t ignore the Dallas Cowboys, who have a quality guard on their roster in Ronald Leary waiting to be dealt to a club who can use his services. The hang up is likely in the asking price, but as some have suggested - what about sending Luke McCown and a pick for Leary? It’s not the worst idea in the world, but is it even a real thing? The rumored interest is there, but does the demand outweigh the cost?
I don’t believe it stops there by just looking for a guard, because aside Strief and Armstead, how comfortable do you feel about veteran Tony Hills as a backup and/or starter? While Armstead’s injury is not considered serious, what exactly does that mean? Hills is not Terron Armstead, and facing the ‘easier’ part of the regular season to start, the Saints can’t afford to rely on ‘maybe’ or ‘could’.
No matter how the New Orleans Saints choose to address the offensive line, I believe it’s safe to say that no one honestly cares how they do it, as long as it gets done. While the fourth and final preseason game is widely regarded as a contest where starters don’t normally play, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the first-team offensive line getting a ton of work.