NFL 2019: Here are three moves the Saints could still make this offseason to boost their Super Bowl chances
The offseason isn't over yet and New Orleans could still boost its Super Bowl chances by making these three moves
No team in the NFL had a more bitter ending to their 2018 season than the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints didn't just come up one game short of the Super Bowl, they came up one penalty flag short. If any official on the field would have penalized the Rams for -- you know the play -- then New Orleans would have almost certainly walked away with a win and at trip to Super Bowl LIII.
Instead, no flag was thrown and the Saints' season came to a crushing end with a 26-23 loss in overtime.
Despite the disappointment, the Saints should once again have high hopes this year and that's because they have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, but will that be enough to get them over the hump and back into the postseason for the third straight year?
Great question, glad you asked.
For the month of May, we'll be taking a look at three potential moves that teams can still make this offseason to turn themselves from playoff contenders into Super Bowl contenders. Although the Saints have a talented roster, there are three small things they can do to put themselves in a position to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season.
And just for the record, none of these three things include signing Zion Wiliamson, even if Sean Payton thinks it would be a good idea.
Also not included on this list is praying, although you could probably make an argument that it should be on the list: Pray for better refs. Pray for no more Minneapolis Miracles.
OK, let's get to the list.
1. Sign Gerald McCoy/add depth to the defensive line
The Saints love the idea of adding defensive linemen so much that they've already done it multiple times this offseason. Since free agency started in March, New Orleans has added a total of two defensive linemen in Malcom Brown and Mario Edwards Jr.
For most teams, that would probably be enough, but the Saints aren't most teams. Despite adding Brown and Edwards, the Saints still have a serious depth problem on their defensive line. For one, the Saints are going to have a big hole on their line due to the fact that Sheldon Rankins will likely miss at least the first part of the season. Rankins, who has started 32 straight regular season games for New Orleans, won't be on the field for the opener this year due to the fact that he in the Saints' January playoff win over the Eagles.
With Rankins out, the next man up is supposed to be David Onyemata, but there's no guarantee he's going to be on the field in Week 1, either, because he's dealing with a legal situation -- Onyemata was cited for marijuana possession back in February -- that could potentially lead to a punishment from the NFL.
Basically, at the rate things are going, veteran defensive end Cameron Jordan might not recognize anyone on the Saints defensive line when he takes the field in Week 1. If you need a quick refresher, the Saints starters on the defensive line last season were Alex Okafor and Jordan at defensive end along with Tyeler Davison and Rankins at tackle. Well, Okafor and Davison left in free agency and we already know Rankins won't be on the field to start the season, which is why depth is still a problem.
The other reason the Saints could use a defensive tackle is because they like to use a rotation of four defensive tackles, which is kind of hard to do when you don't have four guys to pull that off with.
The good news for the Saints is that defensive tackle is actually one of the few positions that still has some major talent left on the free agent market. If the Saints feel like they're one player away from finally getting back to the Super Bowl, then the guy they should go after is Gerald McCoy. It's not often that a six-time Pro Bowler suddenly becomes available as a free agent in May, but that's exactly what and the Saints need to take advantage of it (Ndamukong Suh would have also made sense, but he's the Buccaneers).
One thing that' s not clear with McCoy is what his asking price would be for 2019. The veteran defensive lineman was originally set to count $13 million against the cap this season before being cut by the Bucs. Although it's unlikely that McCoy will be seeking that amount of money, he's probably not going to give anyone a huge discount, which means the Saints will probably have to pay him something between $8 million and $11 million. Of course, if any team knows how to manipulate the salary cap in order to make room for a big contract, it's the Saints, and we've seen them do that multiple times for Drew Brees.
That being said, if McCoy is out of their price range, then the Saints could call either Allen Bailey or Corey Liuget. Both players have postseason experience after playing for the Chiefs (Bailey) and Chargers (Liuget) in 2018.
2. Find a receiver to complement Michael Thomas and call Michael Crabtree first
The biggest surprise of the offseason in New Orleans was probably the fact that the Saints didn't bother to add a wide receiver during free agency or even during the NFL Draft. Although Drew Brees will have plenty of weapons to throw to in 2019, the depth chart at receiver gets noticeably thin after Michael Thomas.
The Saints top two receivers behind Thomas last season were Tre'Quan Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., who both come with their own concerns. Of all the receivers on the team, Smith finished with the second most receiving yards (427), but he was highly inconsistent. As a matter of fact, more than 60 percent of his yards on the season came in just two games and those were both blowout wins (Smith had 157 in a 48-7 win over the Eagles and 111 in a 43-19 win over the Redskins). In the other 13 games he played in, he averaged just 12.3 yards per game, which isn't exactly what you want from a guy who's supposed to be the No. 2 receiver.
As for Ginn, someone in New Orleans must have a voodoo doll of him, because he can't stay healthy. The veteran dealt with knee issues last season, which caused him to miss 13 games, and at age 34, there's no guarantee he won't be dealing with those same issues going into 2019. The Saints also have Cameron Meredith, but he's dealing with his own knee issues that caused him to miss 10 games last season. Another option is Keith Kirkwood, but he's an unproven undrafted free agent who was signed in 2018.
Ginn (209 receiving yards), Kirkwood (209) and Meredith (114) combined for 532 yards last season, which wasn't even half of what Thomas totaled (1,405). If there's a position where the Saints could really use a veteran, it's at receiver, and the person they should call is Michael Crabtree.
For one, unlike Ginn and Meredith, Crabtree has a history of staying healthy. The 31-year-old has played in all 16 regular season games in four of his past five seasons, and the only year where he didn't hit the 16-game mark came in 2017, when he played in 14 games. Of course, health is only part of the equation, the more important factor here is that Crabtree actually produces. In a Ravens offense that had non-existent passing game last season, Crabtree still managed to total 607 receiving yards, which would have made him the second most productive receiver in New Orleans last year.
Crabtree is also incredibly consistent: The former first round pick has gone over 600 yards in nine of his 10 NFL seasons. Let's also not forget that he's a scoring machine. Crabtree has been on the receiving end of 28 touchdowns since 2015, which is tied for the seventh most of any player in the NFL over that span.
If Crabtree ends up demanding more money than the Saints are willing to pay, there are also a few other veteran options out there. The Saints could contact Jermaine Kearse or Pierre Garcon, but Garcon might not be the best option because he's missed 16 games over the past two seasons.
If all else fails, the Saints could call Dez Bryant, the when they needed receiver help. The only issue with going that route is that they'll likely have to wait until at least August before he's 100 percent healthy and that's because Bryant is still recovering from a torn Achilles during his first week practicing with the Saints.
3. Add some depth to the offensive line
The Saints have a pretty loaded roster, but if there's one spot where any NFL team can stand to add some depth, it's on the offensive line, and Sean Payton seems well aware that his team could probably use a few extra bodies.
The biggest problem for the Saints is that no one on the left side of their line can ever stay healthy. Although left tackle Terron Armstead has some serious talent when he's on the field, he's almost never on the field. The 27-year old has never made it through an entire 16-game season in his seven-year career and he's missed a total of 21 games over the past three seasons combined.
Andrus Peat has also struggled with injuries in his career, although he hasn't missed as many games as Armstead. Let's also not forget about the fact that the Saints recently signed a center (Nick Easton) who didn't play a single game last year. Easton missed the entire 2018 season after undergoing surgery for a herniated disc in his neck last August. Of course, even when Easton was on the field with the Vikings in 2016 and 2017, he wasn't effective.
The good news for the Saints is that they actually do have some depth at center after drafting Erik McCoy with their first pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, which came in the second round. The Saints were almost forced to add both Easton and McCoy due to the fact that Max Unger unexpectedly .
What this all comes down to is that the Saints could definitely use some help on the offensive line.
Although the free agency pool isn't exactly deep on the O-line right now, there are a couple of veterans available. At guard, there's Jeff Allen, who has started 30 games over the past three seasons (Four with the Chiefs and 26 with the Texans). The biggest upside with Allen is that he could potentially provide some versatile depth to the Saints' offensive line and that's because he's started at least one game in his career at every position except for center (40 starts at left guard, 23 starts at right guard, three starts at left tackle and two starts at right tackle). Other veteran interior offensive linemen who are still available include Chance Warmack, Ryan Groy and Patrick Omameh. Although Omameh probably wouldn't be garnering any Pro Bowl votes if he were to sign in New Orleans, he's still a crafty veteran who's started 24 games over the past two seasons while playing with both the Jaguars (18 starts) and Giants (six starts).
If Payton would feel more comfortable adding some tackle insurance in case Armstead gets hurt again, there's also a few of those available. Although the Saints might have a tough time convincing someone like Donald Penn to sign as a backup, they could look to a tackle more in their price range like Garry Gilliam, Jermey Parnell or Ryan Schraeder. Penn would be definitely be the most intriguing option, though. At 36 years old and coming off a season where he only played four games due to injury, the veteran might be willing to sign for less and embrace a backup role if it means getting back to the postseason. In 12 seasons, Penn has been to the playoffs only twice, with no victories.
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