By Jason Powell, Senior Editor Saints Offseason Needs Our team-by-team look at offseason continues with the NFC South champion Saints. The feel-good story of 2006 ended one win shy of a Super Bowl appearance and the Saints are out to add a new chapter in 2007.
Areas of Need: Fans and experts got so caught up in the Cinderella story that was the Saints that they seemed to look past a number of the glaring needs Sean Payton's club has on both sides of the ball. At least that's the best reason we can come up with to explain why so many people were picking the Saints to top the Bears in the NFC Championship Game. The truth of the matter is that Payton did an extraordinary job of covering his weaknesses with smoke and mirrors.
Although fantasy owners get wide-eyed when they see names such as Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, and Marques Colston, the Saints have an abundance of holes at the non-skill positions. For instance, their offensive line featured only one starter from the previous season. On the other side of the ball, the Saints linebacker corps was pieced together with free agent castoffs and via the trade that turned former Eagles backup Mark Simoneau into a starter in New Orleans. The Saints always seem to have more defensive ends than they know what to do with, but the interior of their defensive front was shaky, especially while Hollis Thomas was serving a four-game suspension late in the season.
Help is on the Way? The Saints could choose to go in a number of different directions with the No. 27 overall pick in the draft. Although offensive line and linebacker are possibilities, the Saints also lack depth at cornerback and wide receiver. Colston was a stud in his rookie season and Devery Henderson showed breakout potential, so it's highly unlikely general manager Mickey Loomis would use his first round pick on a wideout. Furthermore, oft-injured wideout Joe Horn is still under contract. If the Saints choose to save money by releasing Horn and fail to re-sign free agent Terrance Copper, they will likely use one of their later picks or find someone in free agency to fill the void at wideout.
Barring a move to trade up the draft, the Saints first pick will be dictated by what's still available when they go on the clock. The team also has potential lesser needs at kicker and tight end. John Carney performed well for a 183 year-old kicker, but his arthritic right leg can't be counted on for field goals beyond 40 yards in length (see Billy Cundiff attempting a long trey in the NFC Championship Game). Starting tight end Ernie Conwell was injured more often than not last season. Payton's use of Jason Witten in Dallas is proof that he likes to incorporate his tight ends into the passing game, but Conwell and backup Mark Cambell are better known for blocking than catching the football. In other words, don't be surprised if the Saints target a pass-catching tight end at some point during the draft.
Wants and Needs: It's hard to imagine an offensive line has holes when they paved the way for Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister to team up for 2,562 combo yards last season. However, the unit was more or less patched together during training camp last year. In fact, the offensive line was widely regarded as the Saints offensive weak spot heading into the season. Although head coach Sean Payton got a good performance out of his big uglies, the Saints lack talent and depth up front. The Saints appear to have bigger issues on the other side of the ball. Starting defensive tackle Hollis Thomas is entering his 12th season in the league. Brian Simmons was a terrific free agent addition to the linebacker corps, but depth remains an issue. The most glaring need is in the defensive backfield, where the Saints have been trying to find a No. 2 cornerback to start opposite Mike McKenzie for several years. For that matter, McKenzie has seen better days and might be better off moving to the secondary cornerback slot if the Saints can find a suitable replacement for him at left corner.
Potential Selections: Given their needs in the secondary, general manager Mickey Loomis would love to see Aaron Ross, Darrelle Revis or Chris Houston still on the board when the Saints go on the clock with the No. 27 overall pick. However, there are a handful of teams that pick ahead of the Saints that could be in the market for cornerback help. Loomis could potentially package a couple of his fourth-round picks to swap first-round spots with a team such as the Chiefs if they want to get ahead of the Pats and Jets, who may also be targeting cornerbacks. Then again, the Chiefs may also be searching for help in the secondary. If the top cornerbacks are gone before the Saints pick, Loomis could shift his focus to defensive tackle, at which point Justin Harrell would be a nice value pick. If they decide to target an offensive player, a lineman such as Joe Staley would be a logical pick. Tight end Greg Olsen is a dark horse candidate. The Saints have a need at tight end, but we'd be surprised if Olsen fell this far. It is probably more realistic to think that Loomis would grab a tight end like Zach Miller in the second round or even Ben Patrick in round three if those players are still on the board.
Funny that he didn't mention the offer the Saints made to Colts' RFA Jason David last week. If the Colts don't match, the Saints give one of their 3 fourth round picks and get a CB that can at least take over the #2 CB role.