Same Old Saints

Vegas predicts another seven win season.

The Saints no longer have the fear of God on their side.

That much is evident heading into the 2016 season, and happens when a team posts 7-9 records in three of the last four seasons.

From rivals to bookmakers, New Orleans seems to be losing the esteem it built under head coach Sean Payton. The NFL Network’s ranking of the top 100 players in the league going into the 2016 season, as voted by current players, included only two Saints — quarterback Drew Brees, ranked No. 30, and defensive end Cam Jordan at 99. Odds makers aren’t expecting much change from the Saints. Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook predicts the Saints will win no more than seven games this season.

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New Orleans faces the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL going into 2016. That’s not good news for a defense that gave up an NFL worst 29.8 points per game last year.

Still, there is reason for hope.

To start, Payton stayed on as head coach when he could have easily bolted. He must see something to remain in place here, rather than start over somewhere else. Also, quarterback Drew Brees is still a player who can take over and dominate a game.

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At 37, Brees remains one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. He has been able to outrun injury and father time in New Orleans, but questions are being raised on how much longer he can do it. While he looks like he can remain among the top half of the league’s signal callers for the next few seasons, his age is, albeit slight, beginning to show. Brees alone can’t be expected to conjure up the magic that makes the Saints offense so precise. He has to have better support from the skill positions in order to keep the offense humming.

Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower and C.J. Spiller, who will look to improve on a disappointing 2015, will lead the ground attack.

With the losses of TE Benjamin Watson, who signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens, and WR Marques Colston, who retired as the Saints’ all-time leading receiver, much will be asked of the team’s returning receivers — Willie Snead, Brandin Cooks and Brandon Coleman — along with newcomers Michael Thomas and Coby Fleener. They are hoping Fleener can develop into the threat at tight end that Jimmy Graham and Watson have been previously, and that the 2016 second-round pick Thomas will fill the void left by Colston.

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Upfront, the offensive line will be anchored by left tackle Terron Armstead and center Max Unger. They’ll likely be joined by guards Senio Kelemete and Tim Lelito, and right tackle Zach Strief. However, look for Andrus Peat, the Saints’ top draft pick in 2015, and Landon Turner, a 2016 undrafted free agent, to compete for time in new O-Line coach Dan Roushar’s rotation.

The Saints defense hasn’t seemed able to jell in recent years, and they may be hoping the appointment of defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, the return of several starters along with added veteran leadership, and a lot of size upfront will improve the team’s weak points. The defensive backfield returns safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd and cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Delvin Breaux. Free-agent LB James Laurinaitis, a player as smart as he is physical, will play between Stephone Anthony on the strong side and Dannell Ellerbe on the weak side. Jordan and Bobby Richardson will bookend the defensive line, but the biggest additions to the team come at defensive tackle in top pick Sheldon Rankins and free-agent Nick Fairley. They will compete with John Jenkins and Tyeler Davison. If the line finds success, the Saints defense, especially against the run, could be significantly improved.

Faith has been a requirement of Saints fans, and likely will be for their 50th season. I want to believe, but I think the lingering effects of salary cap issues and lack of success in free agency and the draft have depleted the roster of star power and overall depth.

The Saints have nearly $29 million in dead money, salary paid to players no longer on the team going against this year’s salary cap, limiting the maximum they can spend on this year’s team from $155.27 million to nearly $126 million.

Fortunately, New Orleans only has $1.3 million in dead money on the books for 2017 and a whopping $65 million available for a major talent upgrade without further mortgaging the team’s future.

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.


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