|Causes for concern: Drew Brees' contract issues, Sean Payton's year-long suspension. (US Presswire)|
Their coach is suspended for a season. The general manager? Eight games. And the quarterback isn't happy about not getting a new contract and having the franchise tag placed on him.
What happened to the feel-good story with the New Orleans Saints?
How quickly things can change.
The Saints, thanks to Bountygate, are a team in more flux than any in the NFL. Coach Sean Payton received a year suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday, which puts this team in a bad situation and uncertain about the coach in 2012.
There are some good candidates -- including offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo -- but Payton's offensive mind will be missed.
As long as Drew Brees is around, the Saints will be competitive. He has to get past his anger over his contract situation, which he will eventually do. This will be a lesson on how the quarterback, if a star, is more valuable than the coach.
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Even so, Payton will be missed.
QB: Brees broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season in 2012, cementing his spot as one of the NFL's best. He is so good at figuring out what a defense is doing before the ball is snapped. His decision-making is as good as any in the NFL. He and Carmichael have a relationship that grew last season when Payton suffered a broken leg and didn't call plays. Chase Daniel is the backup. If he has to play for more than a game or two, the Saints would be in big trouble, even though the team likes him.
RB: The Saints runs the ball by committee. They have Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory and Darren Sproles. Ingram is expected to get more carries this season after being bothered by injuries as a rookie. Thomas and Ivory are good, solid backs who fit in the system. Sproles was the best free-agent signing in the NFL last year, a third-down back who is great in the Saints' screen game. Fullback Jed Collins was an impressive lead blocker as a rookie in 2012.
WR: The Saints did the smart thing and kept free agent Marques Colston. He is a big target for Brees in the middle of the field. He has great hands. Lance Moore is a nice second receiver who has great quickness. The third receiver is Devery Henderson, a deep threat with speed. They did lose Robert Meachem to the Chargers in free agency, so Adrian Arrington or Joe Morgan, a 2011 camp sensation, will have to step in and play.
TE: Jimmy Graham emerged as one of the game's best tight ends in 2011. He is a big target who creates real matchup problems for a defense. He can get deep down the field and knows how to settle in zones. He isn't a great blocker, but he has worked to improve at it. David Thomas and Mike Higgins are the backups. The Saints use an extra tackle as a tight end in short-yardage situations.
OL: This unit suffered a big loss when its best player, guard Carl Nicks, left to sign with Tampa Bay. The Saints replaced him with Baltimore's Ben Grubbs, who isn't far behind in terms of talent. He will join Jahri Evans, the team's right guard, who is also one of the best at his position. Center Brian De La Puente was a first-time starter in 2011 and had some tough moments, but he's scrappy. Jermon Bushrod is solid at left tackle, although he had some bad moments last season. The right tackle will be Charles Brown or Zach Strief, who both started some last season. There isn't a lot of depth behind the starters and this is an area that could be upgraded.
DL: The Saints didn't get a lot in terms of pass rush from their front four last year. Will Smith, who was often miscast as a 3-4 end, is expected to be the top pass rusher. But he's getting up in years. Second-year player Cameron Jordan is expected to be the other end. He didn't do a lot as a rookie. Junior Galette is the best end off the bench. The Saints signed Brodrick Bunkley away from Denver to start at tackle next to Sedric Ellis. Bunkley is coming off the best season of his career. Ellis has been just OK since he was taken as a high first-round pick three years ago. Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers were disappointments last season and both are free agents. The Saints need depth inside and more speed outside.
LB: The Saints lack speed at the linebacker position, which shows up on a regular basis. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma isn't as good as his reputation, and New Orleans on Saturday signed former Falcons LB Curtis Lofton to a five-year contract. The former Falcons LB, who's four years younger than Vilma, doesn't bring the kind of speed the Saints need, but he will either challenge Vilma or push him off the roster. Outside linebackers Scott Shanle and Will Herring are nothing more than average players. Expect to see second-year player Martez Wilson in the starting lineup this year, and Chris Chamberlain, who was signed Friday, will compete with Shanle. He does have speed. Jonathan Casillas is a top reserve if he comes back. The Saints could use help here, especially in terms of speed.
DB: The top corner is Jabari Greer, but the Saints lost Tracy Porter to free agency. That should put Patrick Robinson, who played a lot last season in the nickel packages, as the starter. Robinson has good speed and improved a lot as a second-year player. There isn't a lot of experience behind those two, but the Saints have high hopes for Johnny Patrick as a nickel corner. The safeties both return with Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins. Harper is good near the line of scrimmage, but struggles in coverage. Jenkins has good range. Jonathon Amaya was added for depth.