After the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2009 National Football League season, they suffered a pair of heartbreaking postseason losses in 2010 and 2011 respectfully. Since then the Saints have only had one playoff appearance which can be traced back to the organization’s punishment for “Bountygate” which saw the NFL strip them of several draft picks, and the five-year, $100 million extension that quarterback Drew Brees signed in 2012. These two moves saw the Saints have a huge dip in their depth and overall talent pool as they were now fighting an uphill battle. Each of the last three years have seen the Saints finish with a record of 7-9 as they were a couple of breaks away from getting back to the postseason. But for the first time in a long time the Saints have a chance to put their inconsistencies behind them and get back to the playoffs if they continue to take care of business this off-season.
In a surprising move this off-season the Saints traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots. Cooks was a first-round selection of the Saints in 2014 and he led the club in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons. Cooks was rapidly emerging as one of the best receivers in the National Football League; however he was falling out of favor in New Orleans after he began to publicly criticize the routes that he was sometimes asked to run. In exchange for sending Cooks to the Patriots, the Saints received a first and third-round pick, while they are also sending a fourth-round selection to New England. And with this additional arsenal of picks, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis could be ready to knock one out of the park.
Saints head coach Sean Payton is one of the sharpest offensive minds in the National Football League, while Brees is a future Hall of Famer. And thus New Orleans has been one of the top offenses in the NFL in recent years. But Brees’ golden right arm alone can’t carry the Saints. The Saints issues have been on the defensive side of the football where they have not finished higher than 27th in total defense in each of the last three years which could be finally remedied later this month in the National Football League Draft.
The Saints are scheduled to pick three times within the first 42 selections and they could rack up on some defensive talent. After New Orleans was only able to tally 30 sacks last season with defensive end Cameron Jordan leading the team with 7.5, they have a chance to beef up their pass rush. Quality defensive ends such as Taco Charlton, Derek Barnett, and Charles Harris are all expected to be available when the Saints pick 11th. And as the Saints secondary has been barbecued in recent years, players such as cornerback Marlon Humphrey and strong safety Obi Melifonwu could be in play for them early as well. At some point the Saints are going to have to attempt to replace Cooks and his production. But being that most wide receivers in New Orleans are a product of having Brees throw them the football, I don’t see replacing Cooks as a top priority when the draft begins as their defense must find a way to neutralize Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback if they want to win the NFC South.
In 2015, Loomis took some heat when he traded All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks. In exchange for Graham, New Orelans received center Max Unger and Seattle’s first-round pick. The Saints would use that selection on outside linebacker Stephone Anthony who in a short period of time has become a leader on the defensive side of the football. And if Loomis can find some game changing play makers on the defensive side of the football later this month in the draft, he could make the folks on the bayou forget about Cooks; especially if the Saints can get back to the playoffs.
This is the first time in a long time that the Saints will have a chance to get back on track. And if Loomis and Payton are able to it right, New Orleans could still be playing football when January rolls around.