Jairus Byrd at Houston Texans Photos of Mark Ingram against the Houston Texans on Sunday, November 29, 2015. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)
You like me. You really like me.
Well, maybe you don't, but at least you continue to submit questions for the weekly mailbag, and it's much appreciated on this end. The rules don't change – if it's a question that's submitted by several people, I might only choose one version of it as an entry, no offense intended.
So, on to it…
@jeremoid: Which would you say is a priority this offseason, offense or defense? What's going to be the focus?
JD:Offensively, the Saints finished last year first in passing offense, second in total offense and eighth in scoring. Defensively, they finished next-to-last in total defense, next-to-last in passing defense and last in scoring defense. I'm guessing you have a pretty strong inkling now as to which unit needs and deserves the most attention this offseason.
@TommyMacLuckie: Will the Saints dump Zach Strief and Rafael Bush? Will Drew Brees have to be on the grass again playing catch up?
JD:Lotta stuff going on here, Tommy. OK, I don't think Strief or Byrd will be released: If Strief can't still start at right tackle, he still could be a valuable backup, mentor and swing tackle for a reasonable price, and is a great locker room leader; Byrd's cap hit upon a release would be pretty steep and, plus, the team felt he was coming along and hopefully getting back to form toward the end of the season, after preseason surgery. As for Brees and the offense playing catch up, hey, it happens. You'd like for the offense and defense to start fast every game, but sometimes neither unit does. But, obviously, the goal is to start quicker and I think the offense should be able to do that next season, given the familiarity that Brees now has with his new weapons (Drew Brees, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, etc).
@alexgar221: Who do you think the Saints will draft this year?
JD:One of the weekly mailbag questions that I'll pretty much give the same answer as before: It's really hard to provide an educated guess until we see what happens in free agency. If the Saints feel they need a cornerback, and they're able to sign a veteran corner in free agency, there wouldn't be an urgency to pick one in the first round. So let's see what happens in free agency and then take a hard look at the areas of need.
@whodatnation96: Do you think the Saints will draft a wide receiver, and do you think the Saints will go to the playoffs in 2016?
*JD: *For the answer to the first question, see the previous answer (that doesn't mean they won't take one in a later round if they choose not to select a receiver in the first round). And, yes, I think the Saints are a playoff team in 2016 (what did you expect me to say? Lol). Seriously, though, New Orleans lost four games by a touchdown or less, five by eight points or less. It lost at Carolina on an end zone interception with less than two minutes left, and at home to the Panthers when Carolina scored a touchdown with 70 seconds left. I've been wrong before, but I don't think the Saints are hopelessly far away and if the defense improves by a few ticks – if the Saints allow, say, 23 points per game instead of 29.8 – they'll be right in the hunt.
@eddie2guns: What are the Saints going to do to fix the issues on defense and repair the hole Jimmy Graham left on offense?
JD:First, the hope is that defensive coordinator Dennis Allen can devise a scheme that takes advantage of the personnel he has and eliminates the communication confusion to allow the players to play faster and more instinctively. If players know where to line up and what their assignments are, that will go a long way toward improvement. And, of course, more talent will be infused into the unit. An improved secondary will help tremendously; Keenan Lewis' return won't be a magic elixir, but it'll go a long way toward making the secondary better. As for repairing the Graham hole, the Saints led the league in passing offense and finished eighth in scoring. I think they did OK without Graham.
@marik5591: Will the Saints run a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense?
JD:That depends on the number of quality defensive linemen and linebackers that coordinator Dennis Allen believes he has. Right now, a 4-3 would seem best because of the release of linebackers David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber. But the Saints have to replenish the position – linebackers are critical to special teams play – and if they have four that can play in the base defense, with perhaps Hau'oli Kikaha serving as a rush end on most downs, then a 3-4 might be the best schematic fit.
@YoungJason54: Will the Saints release Drew Brees or keep him?
JD:Good question, and I just don't have an answer. Coach Sean Payton said that Spiller was affected all season by slow recovery from preseason knee surgery, which hampered his explosiveness and led to him being placed on injured reserve near the end of the season. Then, Travaris Cadet came back for the last two games and was the jack-of-all-trades back that the Saints needed offensively, able to run, catch and return kicks. If the Saints part with Spiller, Cadet appears to be a logical choice to replace him on the roster. But if Spiller is healthy, he has proven that he can be special as a game-breaker. The team could just bring everyone to training camp and let the competition sort out itself, or it could make the choice beforehand. I really don't have a feel either way.
@JABsteppin: Who do you think will be this year's Willie Snead-like camp standout?
JD:Just a shot in the dark here, but I'm going to keep an eye on defensive back Erik Harris. He's a former CFL player and the Saints struck gold via the ex-CFL route last year with cornerback Delvin Breaux. Harris is huge (6 feet 3, 225 pounds) and given the presumption that he wowed during his workout, he'll have a chance because the Saints need all the quality assistance they can find in the secondary. Maybe he's a guy who can play in space and in the box as a run supporter when necessary. Again, it's just a guess, but I think he'll have every chance to prove his worth and he plays a position where he'll get a shot to make the team, and play.
@BigPapaWE5: We retain Senio Kelemete and Senio Kelemete. Don't we still have to sign a free agent guard and draft one, or sign two?
JD:I'm not sure how much of a high priority the guard position is, even with Jahri Evans' departure. I mean, losing him leaves a significant hole. But if Zach Strief still has more quality play left at right tackle, there's no reason to believe that Andrus Peat – who eventually will play right tackle – can't slot in at right guard. Peat played some at left guard last season, with mixed results (much as you'd expect from a rookie). But with an entire offseason to hone his skills, he could be the answer. Or, if Peat starts at right tackle and Strief returns as a backup, Lelito (left guard) and Kelemete (right guard) have proven they can play those respective positions. Either way, depth will be an issue, but the Saints appear to have the proper parts for a starting offensive line and might not have a dire urgency to find a starting guard.
@dthompsonthe2nd: Will Willie Snead get some snaps on offense next year, or will he remain a return specialist?
JD:It won't be easy for him to get offensive snaps. The running back position is literally bursting at the seams right now; Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, Terron Armstead, C.J. Spiller and Travaris Cadet are likely all ahead of Murphy in the pecking order when it comes to carries. The Saints opened last season with four running backs on the 53-man roster – Murphy was a pleasant surprise as a seventh-round draft pick – so it will be interesting to see how the roster is pared this year. Murphy returned punts and kicks as a rookie, and it'll be hard for him to expand beyond that role if the makeup at running back remains the same.
@Shoegameking1: So, do you think the Saints are going to keep Travaris Cadet?
JD:That's a great question. He's a known commodity, a trait that was highlighted by the fact that he was able to sign with the Saints prior to their 15th game of the season, and play the last two games as if he'd never left the building (four carries for 12 yards, nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown and three kickoff returns for 94 yards in the two games combined). But if C.J. Spiller is healthy and on the roster, there may not be room for Cadet. It's a good problem to have for a Saints offense that never can have too many playmakers.