Over 500 fans weighed in on a recent Twitter poll that ran for a couple of days on how to fix the 2017 New Orleans Saints squad. The question was simply around what the one area fans felt that will help the most in the new season. The big three options centered around free agency, the draft class, and new coaching. There was also a ‘freebie’ option where fans could weigh in on anything else.
Here’s a breakdown.
#Saints fan pulse: What's the one area you feel will help the most in 2017?— John Hendrix (@JohnJHendrix) January 2, 2017
Free Agency (42 percent)
Facing a period where the team could have anywhere from $24-30 million at their disposal is the exact opposite of what Saints fans are accustomed to. The news gets even better when you look at only $9.1 million in dead money. The best news is that the Saints could easily gain another $10-15 million by making a lot of smart and logical moves. For instance, players like Jairus Byrd ($11.7 million cap hit), Terron Armstead ($12 million cap hit), and Max Unger ($7.4 million cap hit) could have their contracts restructured to help the team create space.
The team could also work on a long-term deal with safety Kenny Vaccaro ($5.67 million cap hit), which could alleviate some space. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Saints front office push money and ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ to ensure they grab some appealing free agents. Plus, they’ll have some of their own they’ll want to sign. Let’s also not forget about the Canadian connection with the CFL, which has brought in Delvin Breaux and Erik Harris in the past couple of years.
No matter how you slice it, fans just want to see the right ones, not necessarily the splashy ones.
Draft Class (34 percent)
The Saints enter the 2017 NFL Draft with six picks. They don’t have a fifth-round selection, which is held by the Washington Redskins, as it was used to land David Onyemata in last year’s draft. With the 11th overall pick, the Saints should be able to land some legitimate talent at the position. How free agency plays out is everything here.
The Saints are looking to leave the stench of 2014’s draft far behind, and have some key players facing a crossroad from their 2015 class. Last season’s draft class made a tremendous impact overall, and it’s only encouraging to see what progression and leap they’ll make year over year.
The other side of the coin for the Saints is the undrafted rookie free agents. You won’t see a lot of projections for that category, but it’s worth noting that the Saints really shine when it comes to landing the players that didn’t get drafted. Naturally, not all that are brought in make the team, but can wind up being key additions to the practice squad and bring the hopes of developing from the teachings of others.
New Coaching (20 percent)
Specifically, many weren’t talking about Sean Payton when this was brought up. It’s the assistant coaches that have been around for what seems like forever. Joe Vitt, Bill Johnson, and Greg McMahon are Payton’s Three Amigos. Fans have called for their exits for quite some time, but it seems highly unlikely that any will get the axe.
There’s a big case to be made for McMahon (special teams) to leave, which would allow Kevin O’Dea to take over. Once he entered the picture, then rookie kicker Wil Lutz was pure perfection. The abysmal special teams coverage is what has us concerned the most, and it would be nice to get a viable option in the return game.
As for Vitt and Johnson, they’ll most assuredly get a pass even though they probably shouldn’t. Vitt’s track history with linebackers is pathetic, as the Saints have to rely on free agents to contribute rather than developing linebacking talent. If the Saints were to nab any type of Luke Kuechly, fans get the sense they’d turn to utter garbage without direction.
For Johnson as the defensive line coach, his claim to fame from the season is arguably Onyemata. He ran drills and attended his pro day, and you could see promising progression from the rookie. Cameron Jordan is in a league of his own with his pass rushing specialties, and Sheldon Rankins was strong before coaching. Still, with the Saints potentially keeping the band together for 2017, don’t expect these guys to go anywhere. My biggest criticism of the three is that younger, sharper minds are what this team needs (i.e. Aaron Glenn in the secondary).
The Other Guys (4 percent)
Most of the comments centered around moving on from general manager Mickey Loomis, but that’s simply not going to happen. Loomis is involved with both the Saints and Pelicans, and as reports came and went on Payton’s future, he held all the cards, so to speak.
The most interesting response I had from the comments was this, which suggested that the Saints should replace Terry Fontenot. Fontenot, who is about to enter his 15th season with the Saints, has been Director of Pro Scouting since 2013 after Ryan Pace left for the Bears.
According to his bio, this is what he’s responsible for:
His responsibilities in managing the pro personnel department on a daily basis include recommending player acquisitions by evaluating players from all professional leagues, including the Saints roster, monitoring the waiver wire and supervising the advance scouting of upcoming opponents.
So, while Payton and Loomis absorb most of the blame in free agent choices, they aren’t alone.