Looking ahead: Possible players for the Saints to target this offseason

So we’ve looked at both the high and low points of the 2012 New Orleans Saints, and now the news that every Saints fan has been waiting to hear has dropped: Sean Payton is back!

But hey, Coach Payton’s been out of commission a long time.  I’m sure his mind’s been on everything but football, and maybe he wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the team this year.  Luckily for him, however, I’ve been watching, and I can offer him some suggestions on how to approach this offseason, personnel-wise.


Yeah, we all saw it.  A historically bad defense, by yards-allowed standards the worst ever. If the Saints want a realistic shot at winning another Super Bowl in the Brees era, they need to tighten up on the defensive side of the field.

Steps are already being taken.  Within days of being officially re-instated, Payton and GM Mickey Loomis made the decision to let defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo go.  The plan, as it’s being said, is to install a 3-4 defensive scheme.  And while the new hire is expected to be announced soon (perhaps within the week), names being tossed around as possibilities include Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini, as well as a couple of members of the 49ers defensive staff, secondary coach Ed Donatell and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

But installing a new defense is only part of the challenge.  The Saints will also need to make sure they have the personnel to make the system work.  The prime needs with the current roster lie primary in the linebacker and defensive tackle areas.  But getting these players may come with a price.  So let’s take a look at some possible moves the team could make this year to beef up the defense and get the best possible personnel in to make the new system work.

Free Agent: DT Isaac Sopoaga

One of the keys to making a 3-4 system work is a good nose tackle, and the Saints really need an upgrade there.  Sedrick Ellis has been a complete bust and shouldn’t be brought back.  Akiem Hicks has shown some potential, but you need stability there.  The Saints need to pursue someone who can at least give them a few good years while they develop one of their younger players.  Sopoaga could fit the bill.  At age 31, it’s unlikely the 49ers will want to sign him to a long-term extension, so he could be lured away if the right offer comes along.  If they hire someone from the Niners’ staff to run the defense, that could also entice him to come along.

Trade Bait: Pierre Thomas

If there’s one area on the Saints where they have more talent than they know what to do with, it’s at running back, and as much as it may hurt to see him go, Pierre may be the odd man out.  Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram (who stepped up HUGE when Darren Sproles went down in midseason) give the Saints a pair of capable backs for running between the tackles, and Sproles (as well as Travaris Cadet, who showed flashes of potential in his rookie season) can do most of the pass-catching out of the backfield.  Thomas may be the most trade-able of the Saints backs.

Possible Trade Partner: Green Bay.  The one thing holding the Packers back from having a truly elite offense has been their lack of a consistent running game, and Thomas could give them that.  As far as what they could offer in return, the Saints could seek to acquire linebacker Dezman Moses, who filled in admirably last year as a rookie when Clay Matthews was out with injury.  Moses (who played his college ball at Tulane, giving him immediate familiarity with New Orleans and the Superdome) was a solid contributor on special teams, and also racked up 4.0 sacks in his debut season in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme.  If he continues to develop, Moses could easily become a regular starter for many teams.

Free Agent: SS Stevie Brown

Where the secondary is concerned, the Saints aren’t as bad off as one might think.  Patrick Robinson developed into a solid corner during this season, and Jabari Greer is just fine on the other side.  Corey White also showed flashes of potential, and Malcolm Jenkins has started to play like fans hoped he would when he was drafted.  The one big hole is Roman Harper.  As good as Harper is at hitting and tackling, he leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to coverage.

Enter Stevie Brown, who took over for an injured Kenny Phillips midway through 2012 for the Giants and showed an impressive nose for the ball, snagging eight interceptions and forcing two fumbles.  When the Saints made their 2009 Super Bowl run, it was largely on the strength of a defense that forced a lot of turnovers, and Brown fits that bill well.

So there it is: three suggestions of defensive players at each level of the unit that the Saints should pursue in the offseason.  If they can get these guys or even guys of a similar level, there could be a large and immediate improvement on the defensive side of the ball, and the Saints could likely find themselves back in the postseason.

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