2012 was always primed to be the ‘lost season’ in Louisiana. Anybody who thought that the players could react to the revolving door within the coaching staff thanks to the Bountygate scandal and not miss a step was always going to be wide off the mark. They only had to look at the period after Sean Payton broke his leg during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in 2011 to know that Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints would struggle in 2012.
With Sean Payton back in the door, the Saints must be desperate to get started on 2013. However, they are set to do so in a potential $20 million cap hole. Plus, while we are on the subject of changes in coaching positions, they have appointed Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator, sparking a change from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.
That is a hugely drastic change altering a scheme in this way, automatically changing the use of every front seven player on their roster. However, making that huge defensive change might not have been that bad a decision for several reasons. Firstly, the Saints were worst in the league in terms of yards allowed at almost 4,500 yards, so by that stat alone it can be seen that the Saints need to take drastic measures on the defensive side of the ball.
Meanwhile, while changing the entire defensive scheme takes time, as every player in the front seven needs to be assessed as to their ability to play in the other system, in this case it may well allow the Saints to make the kind of sweeping cuts to get under the cap very easily. This is because several of those front seven are much higher earning players than they need to be.
Sedrick Ellis is a free agent who earned over $33.5 million over the last five years but can easily be let go, as he is of very little use to the Saints being a 4-3 defensive tackle, with Broderick Bunkley already on the roster who played the 3-4 nose spot in Denver. As for contracted players, they can save almost $8 million by releasing Will Smith who has had two seasons with double digit sacks but is a bulky 4-3 pass-rusher who has little chance of converting to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Talking about the linebacker position, they can save $6 million by releasing Jonathan Vilma, who is an archetypal 4-3 mike linebacker. Replacing him in the middle by pairing Curtis Lofton, who has already agreed to restructure his contract in a way that could save the Saints $3 million capwise, with David Hawthone, whose injury problems in 2012 allied to a $3 million roster bonus due mid-March, make him a perfect restructure candidate. On top of this, they have already released veteran tight end David Thomas and cornerback Johnny Patrick, saving another couple of million.
It would mean that the Saints roster would be weakest at the 3-4 DE and pass rushing outside linebacker spots, but to help facilitate the alteration of the entire defense, they may well go defense with all their first three or four picks in the Draft.
That’s because while Drew Brees is there, you do not have to worry about the offense at all. Devery Henderson and Courtney Roby may be free agents this year, but in the same way Peyton Manning made the likes of Anthony Gonzalez and Blair Walsh dangerous receivers, so does Brees. If Roby and Henderson go, expect Brees to go and turn Preston Parker and Joe Morgan into stars (not to forget Lance Moore and Marques Colston will still be there). They also have the four-headed backfield in Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and playmaker Darren Sproles.
The only major issue that the Saints have on the offensive side of the ball is whether they need and can afford to bring back Jermon Bushrod, who did well deputising at left tackle after Charles Brown went on IR last season. I suspect Bushrod will not be back, though cheaper decent right tackles are about with Brown’s return at left tackle.
Possible Free Agents:
QB Chase Daniel
RB Chris Ivory (RFA)
WR Devery Henderson
WR Courtney Roby
OL Jermon Bushrod
OL William Robinson
OL Brian De La Puente (RFA)
OL Justin Drescher (RFA)
DL Sedrick Ellis
DL Turk McBride
DL Junior Galette (RFA)
LB Jonathan Casillas
LB Ramon Humber
LB Scott Shanle
CB Nick Hixon
CB Elbert Mack
1st Round — #15 — Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU — New Orleans may well be desperately looking for a trade partner to replace their 2nd round pick lost in Bountygate, but I don’t see a partner for them in this spot and will have to take the best pass-rusher left on the board.