After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 2013 record: 11-5
Projected current salary-cap space (according to OverTheCap.com): $1.6 million under the cap
Possible salary-cap casualties: WR Lance Moore, RB Mark Ingram (already cut Will Smith, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Jonathan Vilma).
Draft situation: The Saints own the 26th pick in the first round and own all their original picks, except for their seventh-rounder, which they traded to the San Francisco 49ers for Haralson.
[Be sure to check out Shutdown Corner's NFL free-agent rankings. Click here for the list of offensive players, and click here for the list of defensive and special teams players]
Revisiting 2013: The return of Sean Payton to the sideline was a welcomed sight, and the Saints got back to their victorious ways by winning their first five games and being mentioned as Super Bowl contenders when they reached the 9-2 mark. One other big reason was the addition of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator, who took a patched-together unit and turned it from one of the worst groups in 2012 to one of the most improved in 2013. In Week 13, however, the wheels started falling off. It was then the Saints went up to Seattle for a much-hyped Monday nighter against the Seahawks and were slaughtered, 34-7. From there, the team dropped two more games, costing it the NFC South title. Although the Saints won at Philadelphia in the wild-card round, they couldn’t get over the hump in losing again to the Seahawks in the divisional playoffs.
Reasons for optimism: With Payton and Drew Brees running the offense, the Saints can keep pace with anyone. The run game was significantly better, too, making the Saints that much harder to defend. If Graham is out there, he’s a chess piece few teams can lock up. Defensively, Ryan needs to work his magic again, but he appears to have a good thing going and the aggressive mentality to make things work even if the personnel isn’t top notch. Cameron Jordan, Kenny Vaccaro, Akiem Hicks, Keenan Lewis, Junior Gallette and others at least form a nice nucleus on that side of the ball.
Glaring hole to fill: Despite Ryan’s terrific scheming and finding players to fill roles last season, the defense needs help on all three levels. The cutting of Smith, Greer, Harper and Vilma didn’t blindside anyone, but that doesn’t mean their veteran presence and impact wasn’t tangible. The Saints need help at — in some sort of order — cornerback, safety, linebacker and more force on the line, too. The secondary might be the most pressing issue, with a few holes to fill, especially with Jenkins likely to walk for greener pastures elsewhere.
Toughest decision: No question it’s the future of Graham, who received the franchise tag as a tight end, and he’s not happy about it. There are whispers another team could try to pry him loose at the cost of two first-rounders, but that remains a long shot. The Saints and Graham’s team will butt heads over the TE designation for now, but working out a long-term contract is the tougher chore. The Saints’ offense isn’t the same without him, and this thing could linger a while before it’s settled.
Best-case offseason scenario: First and foremost, the Saints want to settle the Graham situation, amicably if the are able. He is a difference maker, and though he disappeared in two big games against the Seahawks, the Saints know they need him. The cap situation isn’t pretty, so they are going to suffer some losses, but the Saints have to add depth in the secondary. Their offensive line also could use some sprucing, especially at tackle. Brees is 35, and he needs to be protected with maybe a two-, three- or four-year window to win another Super Bowl.
Previous Blueprints: 32. Houston Texans; 31. Washington Redskins; 30. Jacksonville Jaguars; 29. Cleveland Browns; 28. Oakland Raiders; 27. Atlanta Falcons; 26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 25. Minnesota Vikings; 24. Buffalo Bills; 23. Detroit Lions; 22. Tennessee Titans; 21. New York Giants; 20. St. Louis Rams; 19. Chicago Bears; 18. Pittsburgh Steelers; 17. Dallas Cowboys; 16. Baltimore Ravens; 15. New York Jets; 14. Miami Dolphins; 13. Arizona Cardinals; 12. Green Bay Packers; 11. Philadelphia Eagles; 10. Kansas City Chiefs; 9. Cincinnati Bengals; 8. San Diego Chargers; 7. Indianapolis Colts
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