Dig Baton Rouge

What do the Saints need this offseason?

By Casey Gisclair

When they are supposed to win, they lose 30-14 at home to a worthless Atlanta Falcons team – the fifth-straight home loss the team endured to close the year.

When they are eliminated and would be better suited losing, they rally from 20-7 down in the fourth quarter to secure a meaningless pat on the back win that cost the team the chance to pick four-to-six spots higher in next spring’s 2015 NFL Draft.

Welcome to the disaster that is the 2014-15 version of the New Orleans Saints – the one-time preseason Super Bowl favorite that will now be watching the playoffs from home.

But as we finally put a bow on this horror movie and watch the credits roll across the screen, let me warn you of this chilling reality: This will get worse before it gets any better.

Way worse, too. Like see also: the end of Peyton Manning’s time with the Indianapolis Colts’ kind of bad.

The Saints have more holes in their depth chart than a slice of Swiss cheese. Call me a hater, but it’s a fact. Besides quarterback, tight end and maybe punter, name me another position where the team doesn’t need an upgrade or two? You can’t. It’s time we realize that at least 65-70 percent of this roster isn’t up to par with the standards of the NFL.

So the obvious answer to this problem would be to throw a little money around and bring players into New Orleans via free agency.

The Saints can’t.

On February 2, 2015 (the day after the Super Bowl), the NFL will officially be in its offseason. When the calendar flips and the 2015-16 season officially begins, the Saints will officially be more than $20 million over the cap.

That’s a problem.

In last year’s offseason, the Saints were able to part ways with a lot of high-priced players with little value – guys like Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Lance Moore and Roman Harper.

But with those guys gone and the roster already rid of its fat, how will the Saints get to $20 million in savings without getting significantly worse in the process?

It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that receiver Marques Colston is gone – a likely cap casualty. So, too, will be halfback Mark Ingram, who can get more on the open market than the Saints can pay.

I can also see a world where offensive guard Ben Grubbs gets snipped, as well. His production hasn’t met his price tag.

Okay, so the question becomes – without Colston, who will be the Saints’ No. 1 receiver? Kenny Stills isn’t ready for that much attention, and Brandin Cooks is too small to go over the middle. With the holes the team has on the defensive side, the early rounds of the draft don’t seem to be the answer, either, so you’re stuck with what you’ve got.

Without Ingram, who is getting tough yardage at tailback? I like Khiry Robinson, but can he do it alone with no experience? Pierre Thomas is a beast, but he’s an oft-injured, elderly beast. He can’t be too heavily involved in the team’s plans.

And what about offensive line? Brees is on his back more than he’s on his feet. Sure, the team can do some minor things to help out, but with limited resources, how much better can they really get?

And that’s just the offense – what about that defense?

On that side of the ball, the Saints need a miracle – they could use five to six new starters along pretty much every position.

Surely we expect the team to use about 75 percent of its draft picks on defense, including the first round pick. But what’s to say that all of those picks will pan out? Look at the list of 2014 First Round Picks, and you’ll quickly see that most of them are guys you still haven’t yet heard of. What’s to say that safety Jarius Byrd will be the same when he gets healthy? What’s to say that aging linebacker Curtis Lofton will continue to be a dominant player?

And guess what? When the 2015-16 season ends, we’ll have to do it all this cutting and trimming over again because Brees, Byrd, tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Junior Galette’s contracts are all back-loaded, meaning the hole just gets deeper and deeper and deeper as more time passes.

It’s like quicksand. You fall in it, fight it and end up over your head before long.

That’s where the Saints sit as a franchise – in quicksand.

And it’ll unfortunately be quite some time before they get out and can get back to the elite level again.

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