For the past 3 years, the Saints have been on of the most dominant teams in football. They have broken records, won a Super Bowl, and produced a future Hall of Famer. Their record in the span is 37-11. Simply fantastic. Sean Payton is one one of the best coaches in football, Drew Brees is arguably one of the top 10 or 15 quarterbacks of all time. Nothing could stop this team, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, there is a major obstacle that this New Orleans Saints team has to overcome, and it will not be over the course of the 2012 season. It lies within the offseason.
The reason the Saints win most of their games is because they have one of the most explosive and efficient offenses in the history of the NFL. This comes from legendary play from Drew Brees, immaculate protection from the interior offensive line, and electrifying plays made on the outside by the receivers. Going into the offseason, the Saints may end up suffering damage at each one of the categories. They have 4 high profile free agents in Drew Brees, Carl Nicks, Marques Colston, and Robert Meachem. What people seem to forget is that the NFL is a business, and business is all about money. Drew Brees is not going anywhere. The Saints will do whatever it takes to resign him. The new CBA puts a cap in place which restricts how much money a team can spend in the on player contracts. With the huge amount of money the Saints front office will throw out at Brees, at least two of those high profile free agents are likely to leave.
Carl Nicks is arguably the best interior lineman in the NFL, and he needs to be paid like one. With the cap casualty the Saints will suffer because of the Brees signing, it is close to impossible for them to work out a deal to bring back Nicks. At only 26 years of age, Nicks is in the prime of his career and will be offered a huge contract by another team. Don’t expect him back in the Black and Gold. This negatively impacts Brees’ protection, as most of the Saints blocking schemes rely on the super play from Nicks and his counterpart, Jahri Evans.
Marques Colston has taken the hard road in the NFL, going from 7th round project pick to deep threat playmaker. He has great strength and catching ability, and is a physical specimen. Colston has stated that he will not take a discount to stay with the Saints, so unless the team decides that they will slap the franchise tag on him, it is unlikely that he will be back. Now Brees loses his outside receiving threat and favorite offensive target.
Robert Meachem has performed very well in a #2 role the past couple of seasons. He capitalizes on defenses double covering Colston and consistently puts up big plays. He won’t demand #1 receiver money, but a young playmaker like him putting himself out on the open market, he is destined to grab some attention from a multitude of teams. It is very likely that whichever teams puts the most money on the table will take him home.
The other big problem for the Saints comes in the draft. The Saints do not have a first round pick this year, but they so desperately need one. They traded the pick and another 3rd rounder to move up in the 2011 draft and pick Mark Ingram who has not performed to expectations. If the Saints had that pick, they could draft an interior lineman like Kelechi Osemele or playmaking receiver like Dwight Jones to replace one of the free agents that they will almost definitely lose.
What does this mean for the Saints in 2012 exactly? Well, it means that Drew Brees is going to have to adjust to a new component on his offensive line and a fresh face on the outside. The offense will probably need some tweaking and there could be a few bumps and bruises in the process. I don’t expect the Saints to completely fall off of their horse, but I don’t see them garnering the success that they have obtained in recent seasons. While we have seen guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady work without great talent to support them, Brees has not exactly shown that ability. It should be interesting to see how this team is affected by the major changes that are bound to happen in the not-so-distant future. Stay tuned folks.