There’s a cold war brewing among NFC playoff teams, and the New Orleans Saints risk falling behind in it. Nearly all of their postseason competitors - the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, and Los Angeles Rams - have made big moves to upgrade their rosters. Two sleeper teams (the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears) are surrounding their young quarterbacks with playmakers and the Green Bay Packers look to capitalize on Aaron Rodgers’ return from a season-losing injury.
Let’s take a quick recap around the conference title contenders. The Vikings have made the biggest splashes, investing big in franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins and bringing a talented, wayward pass rusher into the fold with Sheldon Richardson. It’ll be interesting to see whether Vikings general manager Rick Spielman can keep his young core together in the coming years, or struggle the way Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider did after paying Russell Wilson.
The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, frauds no longer after 87 years of fraudulence, made the strength of their team even stronger by trading a bag of peanuts (not even boiled!) for a top-ten edge rusher in Michael Bennett. Sure, they had to release longtime sack artist Vinny Curry to afford it, but the Eagles were able to reinforce their defensive line further with Haloti Ngata and bring back linebacker Nigel Bradham at a discount.
Things are industrious on the West Coast. The Los Angeles Rams have remade Wade Phillips’ defensive secondary with twin trades for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, joining them to talented fourth man Nickell Robey-Coleman and franchise tagged slot defender Lamarcus Joyner. Sure, they lost edge rusher Robert Quinn, but his play has been in decline. Lienbacker Alec Ogletree’s trade to the New York Giants could also be seen as addition by subtraction.
The San Francisco 49ers have gotten busy up the coast, breaking Seahawks hearts by adding Richard Sherman after locking in franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. They’ve handed out sizeable contracts to find Jimmy GQ some help through a new center (Weston Richburg) and a Tevin Coleman-style athlete at running back (Jerrick McKinnon). And with plenty more money to burn, they likely aren’t done yet.
Chicago is another team that could crash the party, should Green Bay’s signing of turncoat receiver Jimmy Graham not be enough. They’ve spent as much as anyone to give their young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with pass-catchers: Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel offer all the upside in the world in the right roles, while tight end Trey Burton looks to make plays on top of the depth chart.
Mercifully, the Saints’ rivals in the NFC South are either in shambles, sitting pat, or still figuring themselves out. The Carolina Panthers have looked rudderless, trading a young starting cornerback (Daryl Worley) for Torrey Smith (a worse version of Ted Ginn Jr) and losing their All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell without contest. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei exited to join the Buffalo Bills, and was replaced by Dontari Poe - who was largely ineffective for the Atlanta Falcons last year.
The Falcons have struggled to hold onto their own with Matt Ryan doing so much damage to their salary cap. Their biggest move has been the addition of guard Brandon Fusco, while pass rusher Adrian Clayborn left for the New England Patriots and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel bolted for Chicago. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made a few big moves, as usual (signing Eagles defensive lineman Beau Allen, and Baltimore Ravens center Ryan Jensen), but as always it remains to be seen if any of them will pan out.
That brings us back to the Saints. They’ve gotten better at linebacker (thanks, Demario Davis) and slot defender (welcome back, Patrick Robinson) while hopefully erasing some negative plays at safety (that’s on you, Kurt Coleman). Other than that, I don’t see many moves the Saints can make to go toe-to-toe with the upgrades made in Minnesota, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or maybe even San Francisco. Staying stagnant is dangerous. It’s why landing Ndamukong Suh is so important.