Today, we say goodbye to the New Orleans Saints, a team that threw for more yards than any other in the history of the NFL. Saying goodbye to the Saints means saying goodbye to a certain amount of fun.
But at least they went out in the most entertaining way possible. The game against the 49ers was a mind-blower. I'm sure this is of little comfort to the Saints, but it took their late-game brilliance to draw the best out of the 49ers. The rest of us appreciated it, though.
In the end, the story of the 2011/2012 Saints isn't an unfamiliar one this time of year. They wanted to win the Super Bowl, realistically believed they could win the Super Bowl, but did not win the Super Bowl. They were in a deep conference. They played the 49ers on the 49ers best day. It happens.
Not much needs to change with the Saints, but a lot is going to. Despite the division title, the 13-3 record and historically great offense, the change has already started to happen, in fact.
Longtime defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has abandoned his post. It doesn't seem like Saints fans are taking the loss too hard ‒ giving up 36 points to the 49ers cushions the blow a little bit. Still, this is the same Gregg Williams that put together a Super Bowl-winning defense just two years ago. You'll notice that he won't stay unemployed for long. There is absolutely no guarantee that the Saints will be able to get a defensive coordinator the quality of Gregg Williams, and there's almost no chance his first name will have as many g's.
The good news is that having Drew Brees means you're going to win a lot of games, and that's true if your defensive coordinator is Gregg Williams or Billy Dee Williams. We're assuming here that the Saints will be keeping Brees ‒ he's an unrestricted free agent. The chances of letting him walk are about the same as the chances that the Saints rehire Mike Ditka and let him trade an entire draft for his favorite introverted running back.
There are a lot of other free agents to worry about, too ‒ Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, Tracy Porter, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Aubrayo Franklin, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and more. They won't be able to keep everyone, and it's going to be difficult to find the balance between keeping enough of their own guys and being able to upgrade on defense. This is especially difficult if they end up having to adapt to a new defensive scheme.
Anything less than a Super Bowl title was going to be disappointing for the Saints this season. Barring a free-agency disaster, this will be the case next year, too. Maybe the upcoming changes on defense will be just what the team needed, but given the financial restrictions, it will be difficult to pull off.
But this is the same organization that so shrewdly replaced Reggie Bush with Darren Sproles. They'll need to have another offseason just as good to get where they want to be next year.