NEW ORLEANS — The personnel-acquisition phase of the New Orleans Saints offseason is mostly over.
The organization still needs to fill out their roster for training camp and a veteran free agent of some significance could trickle in here or there. Perhaps a significant trade — most likely involving New England cornerback Malcolm Butler — will still happen.
But with prime-time free agency and the draft both in the rear-view mirror, it’s fair to take a look at the Saints current roster and compare it to the one with which they finished last season.
When any team enters the offseason you hope that they make a realistic assessment of where they’re at and take an aggressive but sensible approach to trying to improve as best they can in one offseason.
Giving a letter grade for the offseason or predicting a won-lost record would be premature at best with the first OTAs still two weeks away.
But given the criteria I outlined, it seems fair to give New Orleans at least a passing grade for its roster changes thus far.
Let’s start where any discussion of the Saints usually starts — on offense. The biggest subtraction of the offseason was the trading of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who was shipped to New England primarily for the final pick of the first round of the draft, which New Orleans used to take Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk. More on Ramczyk in a moment.
The loss of Cooks is significant, but the replacing of him with former Carolina Panther Ted Ginn, both as a receiver and a kick returner, mitigates the loss even if Ginn isn’t everything Cooks is.
Another notable loss was backup running back Tim Hightower, but the signing of future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, who like Hightower is past him prime, mitigates that loss as well.
The drafting of Alvin Kamara from Tennessee in the third round to join returning 1,000-yard rusher Mark Ingram gives the Saints a deep and versatile group of running backs similar to the one they had during the 2009 Super Bowl season. Ingram, Peterson and Kamara are collectively the new version of Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush, even if none is a carbon-copy of their predecessor.
The running backs probably won’t be running behind an offensive line as good as the 2009 version, but the 2017 model looks to be one of the better ones since then. It’s no coincidence that the gradual deterioration of the offensive line mirrored the overall deterioration of the team.
But the line was improved last season and it seems that’s a trend that could continue in 2017. Andrus Peat settled in at left guard between stalwarts in left tackle Terron Armstead and center Max Unger. The addition of well-regarded Larry Warford should be an upgrade at right guard and Ramczyk will compete with Zach Strief at right tackle, providing at least depth in the short term.
Ramczyk wasn’t the most glamorous pick at the end of the first round, but the fact that the Saints trusted their board and took the highest-rated player and didn’t reach at a position of greater need was a good sign.
Now to the defense.
General manager Mickey Loomis said positions fall into three categories during a draft “musts, needs and wants.” He and coach Sean Payton agreed that cornerback was a must and getting Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore addressed that “must” as well as New Orleans could have in the draft.
The second-round addition of Marcus Williams from Utah brings a playmaker to the safeties.
With the drafting of versatile Alex Anzalone to join free agent signees A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o the Saints have depth and a variety of options inside and outside at linebacker, though they are still lacking top-flight playmakers.
The additions of Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad bring potential pass rushers to join free agent end Alex Okafor, but left the Saints without the type of impact pass rusher they coveted. Still they again had the discipline not to reach for a position of need when their rankings told them the value wasn’t there.
Payton repeatedly used the term “vision” as in the importance of having a clear vision of how you plan to utilize players. It seems the Saints had a clear vision of what they needed to add this offseason and went about realizing that vision in an aggressive, yet disciplined manner.
Are the Saints destined to make the playoffs in 2017? I don’t know.
But if you’re getting fatigued by three consecutive 7-9 finishes, relief should be on its way in 2017.