Thursday, May 22, 2014
Saints offseason wrap-up
By Mike Triplett
With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New Orleans Saints' offseason moves.
The New Orleans Saints are counting on first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks to help keep the passing game rolling in 2014.
Best move: It's a tie for the Saints' big, bold moves in both free agency (signing safety Jairus Byrd) and the draft (trading up for receiver Brandin Cooks). The Saints had a Super Bowl-caliber team already. But they went all in to add a dynamic playmaker on each side of the ball. Byrd should help in the one area the defense was lacking last year -- forcing turnovers. And Cooks gives the offense another young, fast weapon after New Orleans parted ways with veterans Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason.
Riskiest move: The Saints decided to let starting center Brian de la Puente leave in free agency without putting up a fight -- even though they don't have a proven backup in place. They're high on the potential of second-year pro Tim Lelito, but he's raw, and his only NFL experience came at guard last year. There's also a strong chance they'll re-sign former starter Jonathan Goodwin. But it's still a new question mark on an offensive line where they'll also be counting on second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.
Most surprising move: Trading Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles was more unexpected than the Saints' other decisions to part ways with several aging veterans this offseason. It made some sense because the Saints are loaded with talent at running back and Sproles had started to slow down a bit in recent years. But Sproles was still a huge impact weapon as both a runner and a receiver -- the kind of player defenses had to devise a game plan around. Now he's playing for another high-octane offense in the NFC.
Super secondary: Over the past two years, New Orleans has undergone a radical makeover in the secondary, which now looks like the NFL's most formidable unit east of Seattle. Last year, free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro were two of the biggest reasons for the Saints' remarkable turnaround under new coordinator Rob Ryan. Then they added Byrd and future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey in free agency this offseason, followed by the addition of a big Richard Sherman clone in the second round of the draft in Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste.