Byron Dixon| BKD TV
When a team suffers a very disappointing season like the Saints just did, wholesale changes are commonplace. However, no one expected anything this drastic. In one of the most shocking moves in recent memory, the front office traded its best offensive weapon, Jimmy Graham, to the Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round pick, and that was just the beginning.
While We Were Away: Jimmy Graham’s departure changes this offense drastically. He was such a dynamic weapon for Drew Brees, as the opposition simply didn’t have answers for him. However, the Saints were more than willing to deal him for a huge return because of his negative attitude and proneness to injuries. Graham has missed two games throughout his 5-year professional career, but he’s constantly banged up, and he hasn’t been near 100 percent in two of his past three seasons. He looked like he was playing on one leg in 2014, which is why his receiving yardage dipped from 1,215 to 889. Besides, the Saints are wise enough to transition to a more ground-based attack in Drew Brees’ old age. Brees turned 36 this offseason, and his production slipped in 2014. Brees’ touchdown-to-interception ratio dropped from 39:12 to 33:17, and he maintained his lowest YPA in five years. He just didn’t look like himself. The hope is that with better protection and a stronger ground attack, Brees can play a bit better in 2015.
That’s exactly where Unger comes in. Unger has injury issues of his own, but he’s still one of the better centers in the NFL. He’ll be an enormous upgrade over the inept Jonathan Goodwin, who nearly got Brees killed on numerous occasions last year. The Saints also spent their first-round pick on Andrus Peat, who could start out at guard and eventually move to tackle. Peat may replace Ben Grubbs, whose play had slipped this past season. Rounding out the interior is Jahri Evans, who needs to bounce back from a dreadful 2014 campaign. Evans battled through a wrist injury, so that would explain why he struggled so much.There was one difference made at receiver, and that was Kenny Stills being traded away. Stills was an inconsistent deep threat, so he won’t be missed too much, especially with Brandin Cooks returning from injury.
I’m sure Brees would still like to have a deep threat like Stills on the roster, but he’ll have a new weapon to play with coming out of the backfield. That would be C.J. Spiller.Rounding out the running stable, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson figure to share the workload in some fashion. Ingram rushed for 964 yards this past season, but while the offensive line has improved, Ingram’s production could slip now that he’s not playing for a new contract. If Ingram struggles, the promising Robinson can take over. Bill Parcells compared Robinson to Curtis Martin a year ago, so he could thrive behind New Orleans’ revamped front.
2015 Season Preview: The front office used six of its initial eight draft picks on defensive players, taking inside linebacker Stephone Anthony with Seattle’s pick at the end of the first round. Anthony is a highly athletic player who could fight for playing time right away. The only player standing in his path is Dannell Ellerbe, who performed poorly in 2013 and then played just one game for the Dolphins last season because of a hip injury. Anthony should be able to pass him easily and start next to David Hawthorne, an average starter who isn’t nearly as much of a liability as the departed Curtis Lofton was.
The Saints were 40-11 as hosts in a 7-year span prior to 2014, including a perfect 8-0 in 2013. The Superdome is known as a mad house where opposing quarterbacks can’t hear anything. But have things changed? New Orleans was just 3-5 at home this past season, and one of the wins was a very slim, overtime victory over the 2-14 Buccaneers.
New Orleans tried Brandin Cooks as a punt returner, but he was miserable in that role. Jalen Saunders was much better. The team was about even with the opposition on returns otherwise. The Saints released Shayne Graham this offseason, so they’ll be going with either Dustin Hopkins or Zach Hocker as their kicker. Thomas Morstead is one of the league’s best punters. In terms of net average, he was tied for first in 2012, third in 2013 and second this past season.
2015 Record: 7-9
The Saints will once again finish another season with an under .500 record and look for another way to get their aging QB back into the fold in the ever growing depth of the NFC and make another Super Bowl run. In the NFC South anything can happen in that division and who knows how this season will go once things come into form.