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Sean Payton on Saints' top three 'musts' this offseason

During the Mickey Loomis-Sean Payton regime, the New Orleans Saints have always broken their offseason wish list into categories of “wants,” “needs” and “musts.”

This year, Payton said, the Saints have two or three “musts.”

“I think one’s a corner. I think another position is an interior offensive lineman. And potentially a pass-rusher,” Payton told Pro Football Talk while at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. “And look, those are invaluable positions to every team every year. …

“We have to check off the musts, be it through free agency or the draft.”

It’s hard to argue with Payton’s ranking. When I did my own breakdown of the Saints’ offseason needs last month, I had cornerback No. 1, outside linebacker No. 2 and guard/center No. 3.

Of that group, I think cornerback is the one that “must” be addressed in free agency -- both because the Saints need a proven starter they can rely on across from Keenan Lewis, and because the crop of available candidates appears much stronger in free agency than the draft.

Payton and former Saints player personnel director Ryan Pace both talked this week about the value of weighing the depth of certain positions in free agency vs. the draft. The Saints can’t count on finding a starting-caliber corner with the 13th pick in the draft. Only Michigan State’s Trae Waynes has been rated that high by most draft analysts so far. Other corners may work their way up in Round 1, but they come with question marks.

Meanwhile, the list of potential free-agent cornerbacks is loaded (albeit an expensive menu). At the top is Brandon Flowers, Byron Maxwell, Kareem Jackson, Antonio Cromartie, Tramon Williams and possibly Darrelle Revis. The next tier includes guys with experience and potential like Perrish Cox, Chris Culliver, Tarell Brown, Darius Butler and Buster Skrine. And there are some experienced veterans who could help bring leadership, such as Rashean Mathis, Ike Taylor, Charles Tillman, Terence Newman and Carlos Rogers.

As for the second “must” that Payton mentioned, the Saints clearly need to get younger throughout the interior offensive line, where all three starters from last year are in their 30s (guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and center Jonathan Goodwin). But I’m very curious to find out exactly how the Saints plan to address those positions.

Will they consider replacing either Evans or Grubbs because of their expensive contracts? Are they looking for a new starting center to replace free agent Goodwin and compete with young backup Tim Lelito? Or are they just looking for depth throughout the interior line -- especially in the draft -- with an eye toward replacing Evans and Grubbs in the future?