Alright folks, we’re onto part two of my big ol’ Saints offseason Christmas wish list. It’s coming down to the wire but I think I can get it finished before Santa Claus makes his rounds - I’ve got NORAD’s tracker open in another tab just in case.
Inspired by the rampant consumerism and my eight-year-old daughter’s adorable handwritten wish list, I conducted a very unscientific poll to see which positions Saints fans feel should be prioritized following New Orleans’ Super Bowl victory. 30+ votes later, we ended up with a loosely-defined wish list of our own.
Here’s what we came up with, broken into three tiers: Musts that have to be prioritized above all others, Needs that can be addressed if the value is there, and Wants that should be knocked off once bigger problems are solved.
- Musts: Linebacker, Tight End, Wide Receiver
- Needs: Defensive End, Quarterback, Defensive Tackle
- Wants: Cornerback, Offensive Center, Offensive Tackle
You can find the first part of this ginormous preview of the top names in free agency and the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft by following this link. The dramatic conclusion to this trilogy will drop some time tomorrow.
Needs: Defensive End, Quarterback, Defensive Tackle
So we can’t say the Saints didn’t try to address the problem at defensive end last offseason. They gave a shot to Alex Okafor (formerly of the Arizona Cardinals) that worked out wonderfully as he proved to be an effective pass rusher, creating five sacks and three forced fumbles while dominating in run defense. But Okafor tore an Achilles tendon and will likely be back where he started in pursuit of a long-term payday. The Saints also drafted Trey Hendrickson (Florida-Atlantic Owls), who created some splash plays on limited snaps, and Al-Quadin Muhammad (Miami Hurricanes), who is just now getting on the field after not suiting up for a game since December 2016. Hau’oli Kikaha has done more than anyone expected after his third ACL tear, but the Saints clearly need to look for more outside help at pass-rusher next year.
The good news: one of the NFL’s best young quarterback-crushers is headed for free agency. DeMarcus Lawrence (Dallas Cowboys) has picked up 14 sacks in 14 games along with 23 hits and even more semi-quantifiable hurries, knockdowns, and other assorted pressures. He’s also just 25-years old and may produce at this level for years to come. The bad news is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will move heaven and earth to keep Lawrence in town, so don’t expect him to get anywhere near free agency. Outside Lawrence, the free agency pool features a couple of often-injured, older options in Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit Lions), Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta Falcons), and Chris Smith (Cincinnati Bengals). The Saints’ own Okafor may be the best of the bunch.
The better news: the draft is flush with pass-rushing talent. My personal favorites who project to be around when the Saints pick (32nd overall) are Harold Landry (Boston College Eagles), Marcus Davenport (Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners), and Tyquan Lewis (Ohio State Buckeyes). I also like Holmes’ running-mate in Columbus, Jalyn Holmes, as well as some less-hyped talents like Uchenna Nwosu (USC Trojans), Duke Ejiofor (Wake Forest Demon Deacons), and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Oklahoma Sooners). Almost all of these guys will be attending the Senior Bowl in Mobile and should be a lot of fun to observe in live practices.
Taysom Hill has given us so many fun moments that it’s hard to count him out as part of the Saints’ plans after Drew Brees. He’s gone full Thunderdome on the punt and kickoff coverage units, and that’s amazing. I just have a hard time buying that he’s the heir-apparent once Drew retires from football and starts promoting multivitamin subscriptions full-time. Chase Daniel is the finesse king, having conned $12-million out of the Philadelphia Eagles for a single regular-season passing attempt, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 to be New Orleans’ answer. Drew probably has at least two more good years left in him, especially considering how the Saints are finally finding help for him on both sides of the ball, but it’s never too soon to be prepared.
The best free agent option is Kirk Cousins (Washington), who desperately presumably wants out of D.C. Dan Snyder’s mismanaged team has stupidly played hardball with Cousins by designating him with the franchise tag two years in a row, guaranteeing the quarterback $43.89-million since March 2016. That’s not far off the guaranteed money he would have gotten in a long-term contract had they just paid him in the first place, but they’re the worst-run franchise outside of Ohio. There will probably be a bidding war for Cousins’ services once he’s finally free including the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, and probably more. If the Saints don’t elbow their way into that mess, look for a younger name like Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings) or Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills) to draw their attention. They may just bring back Daniel.
your daily reminder that Lamar Jackson is indeed a quarterback pic.twitter.com/HeOcSQycUk— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) December 23, 2017
Lamar Jackson (Louisville Cardinals), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), and Josh Rosen (UCLA Bruins) are the only quarterbacks in this year’s draft I think will be good. Sam Darnold (USC) is probably staying in school to further refine his mechanics, clean up the turnovers, and angle for another Heisman Trophy campaign, which is smart. Josh Allen (Wyoming Cowboys) recently declared for the draft and is trying to get into the Senior Bowl, which will probably show us firsthand how much better the other quarterbacks are than him. NFL scouts and the draft media they inform have done him a huge disservice by overhyping him throughout this process. For Allen’s sake, I hope he does well.
I was surprised to see the interior defensive line prioritized this highly, but it makes some sense given Nick Fairley’s awkward situation. The Saints gave him the big contract extension he’s been working for over the last three years, and he went through a brutal calendar year to get it: losing his mom, moving homes twice, and learning he could die if he steps on the football field again by cardiovascular disease. I really hope Fairley has been able to find some treatment in his time away from the team and can return someday, but ultimately his life matters more than his career. But for the Saints that means they’ve had to again shuffle the defensive line to make up for his loss. They won’t be losing any serious contributors outside John Hughes, who is over the hill already. Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, and Tyeler Davison is a great three-piece to work with. The Saints just need to cap it off.
Bennie Logan forces Brady off his spot and to reset quickly for the overthrow. pic.twitter.com/V57ym2taSN— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) September 10, 2017
I could see them looking across the division for help through free agency. Dontari Poe (Atlanta Falcons) is built like a big nose tackle but can do the things Fairley could as a disruptive pass-rusher. Star Lotulelei (Carolina Panthers) brings more versatility, and Clinton McDonald (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) is an older veteran who could slot into the rotation. I don’t see the Saints breaking the bank in pursuit of someone like Sheldon Richardson (Seattle Seahawks) or Beau Allen (Philadelphia Eagles), but they may be able to pick up a guy like Bennie Logan (Kansas City Chiefs) on the slick.
As far as draft prospects go, bigger names like Maurice Hurst (Michigan Wolverines), Vita Vea (Washington Huskies), and Taven Bryan (Florida Gators) are unlikely to be prioritized early. So the Saints probably address defensive line depth in the middling rounds. Lowell Lotulelei (Utah Utes), Star’s younger brother, is good. So is Harrison Phillips (Stanford Cardinal) and Kentavius Street and B.J. Hill (North Carolina State Wolfpack), who was recruited and coached by current Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen. Dre’Mont Jones (Ohio State) could be a candidate to keep the pipeline open from Columbus.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Festivus. I’ve got a lot of problems with you people.