Cleat Geeks

On The Clock: New Orleans Saints 2016 Offseason Preview

In his “On the Clock” series, NFL analyst Brett Casella (@NFL_iQ on Twitter) will take an in-depth look at all 20 teams that failed to make the playoffs as they head into the 2016 offseason. He will conduct a thorough examination of each roster and make recommendations on whom to cut and re-sign, as well as which players to target through free agency and the draft.

This article will focus on the New Orleans Saints.

Team: New Orleans Saints
2015 Record: 7-9
Draft Pick: #12


Season Summary

drew-brees-saints-qb2016 was another down year for the Saints, as they missed out on the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Drew Brees still managed to put up his typical stats, leading the league in passing with 4,870 yards. The Saints main issues primarily lied on the defensive side of the ball, where they gave up an NFL record 45 passing touchdowns.

It was just as ugly as it sounds. Opposing quarterbacks averaged 297 passing yards and 2.8 touchdowns per game, and a passer rating 0f 116.2 – which is higher than any quarterback finished the season with. Essentially, the New Orleans Saints turned every quarterback they played against into an All-Pro caliber player. It was to no one’s surprise that defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was fired after the year, as the Saints look to get a grip heading into the 2016 season.

Re-Signings & Cuts

MarquesColstonWhen it comes to salary cap, the Saints may be the most poorly-managed team in the league. It seems that New Orleans is in salary purgatory every offseason, often having to fight just to get under the cap. That held true again this year, as the team has already released linebacker David Hawthorne, guard Jahri Evans, and wide receiver Marques Colston due to their large contracts.

Chances are good that even more players will get released once the new league year starts in June. Cutting cornerback Brandon Browner would save the Saints $2.25 million, running back C.J. Spiller would save $3.25 million, and punter Thomas Morstead would save $3.5 million. That $9 million in cap space could come in handy.

Once again, restructuring the contract of quarterback Drew Brees is a likely possibility. As it stands now, he will be a $30 million cap hit in the 2016 season.

Players that the Saints should look to re-sign include tight end Benjamin Watson, safety Rafael Bush, and running back Tim Hightower. At the ripe age of 35, Watson is coming off of his best season as a pro. Bush spent most of the year on IR, but is a cheap option to improve their lackluster secondary, and Hightower provided good running back depth after Ingram was hurt.

Free Agency Needs

Because of their salary cap situation, the Saints will be very limited at who they can sign in free agency. They only have $10.4 million in space as of now, but that number could be closer to $25 million after a few cuts and a Brees restructure. Still, they will have to be selective on their targets to help themselves out in future years.

They should mostly look to sign older players who will play for cheaper than their younger counterparts. Some possible candidates include guard Alex Boone, linebacker Derrick Johnson, and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane.

Potential Draft Picks

AshawnRobinson2The Saints almost have to go defense in the first round of the draft, but which position they decide to address depends on who is available at #12. Their entire defensive front seven is in desperate need of a makeover. Interior linemen Sheldon Rankins, Jarran Reed, and A’Shawn Robinson all come to mind.

With quarterback play being a strong point in the NFC South, they may look to draft a pass rusher instead. Noah Spence, Shaq Lawson, and Kevin Dodd may all be on the board. If they decide to draft a linebacker, keep your eyes on Reggie Ragland and Darron Lee.

If the Saints don’t find a replacement for Jahri Evans in free agency, they might look for Joshua Garnett or Vadal Alexander in the second round. Tight end Hunter Henry is another viable option, as the aging Watson is not their long-term solution.

If they decide to go defense with their first two picks, which would be smart, S’ua Cravens and Kendall Fuller would both be good choices. Kendall Fuller would play meaningful snaps from day one and Cravens could pair with Stephone Anthony as one of the better young linebacker duos in the league.

Have questions, comments, or just want to talk about the article? Do so by leaving your comments below.

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