There’s a long way to go before we get to the official start of the 2018 NFL season, but after a disappointing end to the New Orleans Saints’ campaign, it’s all about looking forward. Last year felt like the most important offseason for Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis, and arguably they delivered in a big way. The sky’s the limit for the black and gold entering next season, and they’ll need to upgrade in some areas to be contenders.
The Saints saw Alex Anzalone and A.J. Klein go down with injuries, with Craig Robertson and Manti Te’o filling in accordingly. The biggest thing missing was speed, as the defense struggled getting sideline-to-sideline. The biggest desire lies in acquiring a game-changer at linebacker, preferably one in the middle, which would allow Klein to kick out to SAM. If you feel good about long-term durability of the linebacking corps, then we need to get your secret drink.
There’s one thing I’ve seen in the offense, and that is the need for a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver opposite of Michael Thomas. The Saints used Ted Ginn Jr., Willie Snead, and Brandon Coleman to try to compensate for the loss of Brandin Cooks, but was it enough when it counted? Ginn had a terrific season, while Coleman replicated his 2016 output, but Snead fell off the map.
Snead, who was once thought of as the team’s clear No. 2 option, got himself into some legal troubles and had an injury early on. While both he and Coleman should be relatively no-brainer returns on restricted free agent deals, the Saints must get an upgrade.
Coby Fleener is set to count as an $8 million salary cap hit for the Saints in 2018, and a post-June 1 cut could save the team $6.4 million. Fleener saw his season end early due to a concussion, and even when he was in during his 11 games, he wasn’t exactly effective. Yes, Fleener was more of a seam and vertical threat for the Saints, but does 22 catches, 295 yards, and 2 touchdowns for $7.5 million sound like a good deal?
Michael Hoomanawanui ($1.35 million) and Josh Hill ($1.8 million) are relative bargains heading into 2018, with Garrett Griffin also being one of the players in the mix. Free agency could be interesting, as many are on the Trey Burton train. Jimmy Graham is also another player Saints fans have voiced bringing back for a reunion.
The draft has some appetizing targets, and one way or another it would appear the Saints have to get a better threat to help their offense.
Marshon Lattimore is the de facto top corner for the Saints for the foreseeable future, but the No. 2 spot could arguably use an upgrade. Ken Crawley, who was the guy for 2017, likely battles it out with P.J. Williams and Delvin Breaux (assuming he receives a restricted free agent tender and signs it) for next season. Crawley graded out 39th out of over 120 cornerbacks with a 81.6 overall grade, per Pro Football Focus. His AV, or approximate value, was 4 (Lattimore’s was 8).
Of course, the biggest thing to watch here is what happens with Malcolm Butler. New Orleans was very interested in him last offseason and was reportedly looking to trade for Butler. Also worth bringing up was their interest in acquiring Trumaine Johnson. Things might have worked out this season (or not, depending on your perspective), but a cornerback that can rival what Lattimore did in 2017 would be a pretty scary thought for the Saints defense.
At this point in time, the Saints don’t have a clear answer opposite of Cameron Jordan to get after the quarterback. On paper, it’s Trey Hendrickson, Al-Quadin Muhammad, and Hau’oli Kikaha, with some variables that might include Alex Okafor, George Johnson, and possibly some others that were in the mix last season. The Saints were tied for 7th in the league with 42.0 total sacks, a tremendous improvement and their highest total since 2013. However, that 49.0 sack total that season saw the Saints have two pass rushers (Jordan and Junior Galette) in double-digits.
Free agency has some interesting players set to hit the market (DeMarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah likely topping the list), so do the Saints look to get one through there, keep their guys in-house, or look to the draft?
Where do you rank the biggest offseason needs for the Saints? Who are some players you would like to see them target?