On the Clock: New Orleans Saints
By Jeremy Green
The Saints are a team that went well beyond expectations last season. One of the things the Saints have lacked over the past few decades has been leadership. They now have two outstanding leaders in head coach Sean Payton and new QB Drew Brees. They are both outstanding in their roles and did an excellent job last season at getting other people around them to buy into the program. Offensively, this team is in great shape. The Saints have the triggerman in Brees; a young, talented offensive line; a two-headed RB combo with Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush; and a young and talented receiving corps. The defense is where the focus should be as the Saints move through free agency and the draft. This is a defense that plays hard week in and week out, but needs to become a lot more athletic in the back seven.
The Saints have been fairly active in free agency thus far, entering the offseason with roughly $27 million of cap space. One of the best things they accomplished was getting ROT Jon Stinchcomb re-signed. He is an underrated player on what is one of the better young offensive lines in the NFL. The Saints also went out and added TE Eric Johnson. He has had some issues with injuries, but is still only 27. Johnson had 82 catches in 2004 before missing the entire 2005 season. Last season, he caught 34 passes in 13 games. Johnson has the potential to be the pass-catching tight end this offense has been missing. He has solid hands and can run. His ability to be a threat in the middle of the field should open up the offense for the rest of the receiving corps. Defensively, the Saints have made some nice strides. They added FS Kevin Kaesviharn and WLB Brian Simmons from the Cincinnati Bengals. Although neither is considered an elite player, both bring a ton of leadership, which is something that will be a huge help to the Saints' back seven. Kaesviharn excels in pass coverage and Simmons still can be an effective starter on the weak side, where he is most comfortable. The Saints have definitely upgraded personnel on both sides of the ball this offseason.
The Saints entered free agency with a lot of free agents, but the only one with any real star power was DE Charles Grant. They put the franchise tag on Grant and still could move him at some point, but for now he is their property. The Saints' biggest loss is WR Joe Horn, who left for Atlanta. There is no question that Horn is not the player he once was, but he was one of the team's leaders. He might not fit what Payton wants, but Horn always has competed in practice and on Sunday and has been a great person in the community. He will be missed in the city and by his teammates. The only other loss was backup LB Danny Clark. Clark was a former starter in Oakland, but never was a great fit in New Orleans and could not crack the starting lineup for a very mediocre linebacking unit. The Saints' additions have outnumbered their losses, but replacing Horn's leadership will not be an easy task.
Offensively, the Saints are ready to compete for a Super Bowl title right now. Brees is a quarterback who knows how to win. They have an excellent backfield with McAllister and the versatile Bush. The offensive line is solid, and even without Horn this team has enough talent at wide receiver. The defense is the question mark, though. Although the additions of Kaesviharn and Simmons are solid, the team still has a glaring weakness at corner. The Saints also could use another linebacker and some defensive line depth. When you look at this defense you have to wonder if there are enough true playmakers for it to be consistent week in and week out.
Mock draft: Saints
The Pick (No. 27 overall):
CB Marcus McCauley, Fresno State
Todd McShay: If TE Greg Olsen doesn't fall to the Saints, cornerback then becomes their top priority. McCauley is a fringe first-round prospect with elite skills but inconsistent technique and awareness.