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Saints get B-minus in offseason review by ESPN analysts

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando enlisted a panel of ESPN analysts to review and grade every team’s offseason, with input from former NFL executives and scouts Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson and Field Yates.

The New Orleans Saints received a B-minus, which seems fair to me. As most of the analysts noted, the Saints made so many changes to their roster and identity this year that it’s hard to predict whether they’ll come out ahead.

The Saints replaced core players such as Jimmy Graham, Curtis Lofton, Ben Grubbs, Pierre Thomas and Kenny Stills with the likes of Brandon Browner, Max Unger, C.J. Spiller, Dannell Ellerbe, Anthony Spencer and a loaded draft class.

“It feels like you’re reaching to say one way or the other,” Yates said. "They are less potent and explosive on offense, but they are decidedly tougher on both sides of the ball. That was the message from Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis. But from a grade standpoint, when you trade your second-best player in Graham, that is tough."

I couldn’t have said it better. I understand what the Saints are doing and have confidence that they’ll continue to field one of the NFL’s top offenses even without Graham and Stills -- just as they did in the four years before Graham arrived. Their defense and offensive line both should be better, and those were the two biggest reasons why quarterback Drew Brees was pressed into forcing so many turnovers in last year’s 7-9 collapse. He wasn’t getting the ball to Jimmy Graham down the stretch much last year even when Graham was still around.

But no one newcomer will have the same level of impact that Graham had on this team -- and likely will have with the Seattle Seahawks. So trading him away was a big gamble.

Read the full breakdown for the Saints and every other team in this post, which requires Insider access.