Quick — Why were the Saints so successful in 2009?
Yes, they had a dynamic offense coached by Sean Payton and were quarterbacked by Drew Brees, but look closer. The Saints were the No. 9 rushing attack in all of football that year. Look a little closer and you’ll find that one of the biggest reasons for their success on the ground was because New Orleans employed the best guard tandem in football in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks.
Jump forward to the 2017 season, and the Saints were once again one of the best rushing attacks in football thanks to the Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara tandem. And they were successful because New Orleans went back to their roots, upgrading the guard position and investing in Larry Warford.
Warford came over from Detroit and signed a four-year, $18 million contract. Pro Football Focus gave the deal a B grade and said this about the transaction:
The Saints were banking on Warford trending in the right direction, and Warford rewarded them with his first ever Pro Bowl selection.
In New Orleans, excellent guard play is a newfound standard thanks to Nicks and Evans, and the Saints have that again with Warford and Andrus Peat. Warford proved his worth as a player in 2017; the goal for 2018 should be health - Warford missed a pair of games, home contests against the Bears and Bucs, and has yet to play a full 16 games since his rookie season in 2013.
For the three consecutive 7-9 seasons, everyone who followed the Saints said that they needed to upgrade the guard position. Be it in the draft or free agency, New Orleans needed to do something. Terron Armstead and Zach Strief manning the outside was fine; Max Unger making the calls from the center position was okay, too; but Drew Brees was getting mauled up the middle and Mark Ingram would have to fight for every single yard; that was until the Saints decided to solve their guard problem and go out and get Larry Warford.
Money well spent.