The New Orleans Saints have had one of the most prolific offenses in the league under head coach Sean Payton. They managed to add a young offensive lineman in Larry Warford, along with an exciting returner and deep threat in Ted Ginn. In the second of our two-part view, let's have a look at how the free agency period has affected potential draft decisions on the offensive side of the ball.
- Key Additions: Chase Daniel (Eagles)
- Key Losses: none
Drew Brees did not show a single ounce of decline last season. He remains not only among the best quarterbacks in the league, but one of the best to ever play. However, "Father Time" remains an undefeated foe. Brees is 38 years old, and the Saints do not have a successor in place. 2015 third-round draft choice Garrett Grayson has shown no indication that he is able to lead an NFL offense. Luke McCown and newly signed Chase Daniel are both very capable back-ups, and will fight it out for the No. 2 job, but neither are the future of the franchise.
The signal callers in this draft are somewhat underwhelming, according to many draft pundits. There are a few intriguing prospects that New Orleans could very well draft for a 2-3 year development behind Brees. The Saints have only drafted 2 quarterbacks within the first three rounds in their entire 51-year history (Archie Manning and Grayson). Will they change that trend this season?
- Additions: none
- Losses: Tim Hightower (free agent)
- Re-signed: John Kuhn, Travaris Cadet
Mark Ingram is the starting running back, end of story. New Orleans will not draft Leonard Fournette or Davin Cook at 11th, end of story. Ingram has made himself into a solid receiving back to go along with his "angry" running style, and is one of only a handful of three-down backs in the NFL. Hightower could potentially re-sign, as he did last year after exploring other opportunities throughout the league. Daniel Lasco flashed potential as a potential back-up after being drafted in the 7th round last season. Marcus Murphy seems doomed to be a training camp cut, due mainly to ball security issues.
Re-signing Cadet gives Brees a security blanket as a third down back, but the Saints still lack a true game-breaking threat. Stanford's all-purpose star Christian McCaffrey would be a terrific fit in Sean Payton's diversified offensive attack. The reality of McCaffrey in a Saints uniform is probably slim, given the team's greater needs on defense. Payton always loves his offensive toys, however, and with depth behind Ingram a concern there is a great chance that New Orleans will take a running back in the mid-to-later rounds of the draft.
- Additions: Ted Ginn Jr (Panthers)
- Losses: Brandin Cooks (Patriots)
- Re-signed: Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman
The loss of a talented player like Cooks will not be easy to overcome. The rapid development of 2016 second-round pick Michael Thomas and the talented Willie Snead are one of the reasons that Cooks was deemed expendable. Both Thomas and Snead have shown the ability to be productive Pro Bowl-caliber wideouts. Snead is expected to sign a long-term deal sometime before the beginning of the season, and Brandon Coleman was retained for another year in hopes of continued improvement.
The team hopes that Tommylee Lewis, Jordan Williams-Lambert, or Jake Lampman are able to step up into bigger roles. Ginn and Corey Fuller were brought to add speed to both the offense and special teams, but this receiving corps revolves around the talents of Thomas and Snead. It seems unlikely that the Saints will spend a high pick on another receiver. But, as with running backs, Payton always brings in additional players at the position either late in the draft or undrafted talent.
- Additions: none
- Losses: none
- Re-signed: John Phillips
Coby Fleener was viewed as a disappointment to many following his signing from Indianapolis last season. Fleener certainly seemed to struggle grasping the offense early, and his production was inconsistent. His 50 catches for 631 yards were actually good numbers among tight ends in the league. Josh Hill was having perhaps his best season before being shortened by injury. Phillips and Michael Hoomanawani are strong blockers in short yardage situations.
O.J. Howard of Alabama, David Njoku of Miami (Fla), and Mississippi's Evan Engram are among a few prospects in a very talented tight end draft class this year. Tight end is not necessarily a high priority need at the moment, but the Saints have certainly shocked people in the past. If there were a surprise pick near the top of the draft, it could come right here.
The inking of Warford to a 4-year contract solidifies an offensive line that surpassed expectations in 2016. Evans may still return to the Saints before training camp. The 11-year Saints great played extremely well last year, but may even decide to retire. The return to form of Terron Armstead is vital. When healthy, Armstead is one of the better left tackles in the game. His injury issues caused 2015 1st round pick Andrus Peat to slide over to that tackle position.
Peat's future may still be at right tackle, but he seemed to find his niche at guard. Peat combines with Warford and Pro Bowl center Max Unger to give the Saints a good interior. Right tackle Zach Strief also seemed to find the Fountain of Youth after a couple of down years. Depth is a concern here. Senio Kelemete and Landon Turner have played somewhat well at times, but an injury or two would leave this line dangerously thin. It's no secret that Strief is on the downside of his career. Even if Peat is the heir apparent at the position, the Saints still need more youth and talent. The offensive line group in this year's draft looks extremely thin, but it would not be a surprise if New Orleans adds a couple new faces late or through undrafted players to develop.
Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, Darren Sproles, and now Cooks. Those are among the extremely talented offensive players that the Saints have dealt away in recent years. Simply put, this offense is centered around the talents of No. 9, Drew Brees. Even with the talents of Michael Thomas, Willie Snead and Mark Ingram, this offense has excelled with interchangeable pieces, and will continue to be prolific.
Sproles, Ben Watson, Hightower, Fleener, and now Ginn. Those are the only names among significant contributors at the offensive skill positions that were NOT brought in as rookies and developed by New Orleans during the Sean Payton era. Payton has always been adept at finding talent at the skill positions either late in the draft or as an undrafted free agent. There will most definitely be one or two new faces added to the collection of offensive talent in late April.