NewOrleansSaints.com senior writer John DeShazier answers fan questions submitted via the team's official Twitter account in this installment of the Saints Mailbag.
Which position is high on the draft board with two first-round picks?
Coach Sean Payton specifically mentioned the need/desire to draft at least a couple of defensive linemen/edge rushers/outside linebackers. So I'm going to assume that the first pick is going to be a guy who gets after quarterbacks. And since a team in the NFC South never can have too many quality cornerbacks, the No. 31 overall pick could be used on another CB since it appears the Saints are satisfied with their depth at safety. Now, could Payton's words be a smokescreen to steer observers away from honing in on the players the Saints really want? Of course, that's possible. But given the lack of pressure applied from the front seven last year and the difficulty the Saints had in coverage, those two positions seem like pretty safe bets. The priority could shift – emphasis on "could" – if the Saints are able to make another pickup in free agency. Remember, some players still are available because the dollars they believed they'd command haven't been offered, so a veteran could be added on the cheap that could fill a need and allow the Saints to go in another direction in the draft.
Any word on if they're interested in Marcus Peters?
I don't have any insider info to pass along on that front, but suffice to say that if he can cover – and his talent appears to be unquestioned – then he'll be a consideration. The red flags, obviously, will drive away some teams. Peters' own self-admitted "immaturity" will turn off some franchises and could drive down his stock. But he could be the type of player who flourishes in the right locker room and scheme; Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis have done some heavy pruning this offseason to get their locker room back in order and to reinstall the core values in the Saints that slipped last season. If Peters truly wants to capitalize on his second chance – or third, or fourth, depending on who's counting – then he'll be on his best behavior. Unfortunately, an interview process and a few workouts aren't indicative of whether he truly has grown up, so some team is going to have to take a chance. But he could be the type of chance that's worth taking.
How long do we have Max Unger for? Can he sign with any team he wants after this year?
Unger, from what I see, is under contract this season and next and is eligible for free agency in 2017. Trust that if he's the player and leader that the Saints believe he is, they'll probably work something out with him and keep him off the free agent market.
What is the team's top priority with their first-round picks in the draft?
Gotta go back to that defensive lineman/edge rusher/outside linebacker type, and maybe a cornerback. The defense is receiving the most attention because, obviously, it could use the most upgrading of personnel. The Saints lost players who gave them a ton of snaps last season – including linebacker Curtis Lofton, cornerback Patrick Robinson, cornerback/safety Corey White and defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker. I don't think Payton was fibbing when he volunteered the positions the team would be looking to address in the draft.
At what point did you think letting Jimmy Graham go was a good idea!?
OK. First, he was traded and the Saints were able to fill a need via the trade (Unger, at center) as well as pick up a first-round draft pick. In order to acquire the type of quality player they needed, unfortunately, they had to surrender a quality player. Second, trust me – everyone in the building knows exactly how talented and productive Jimmy Graham was, and likely will continue to be. But let's also remember this: Before anyone in New Orleans knew Graham existed, and before he became an All-Pro and the most productive tight end ever in his first five seasons, the Saints won a Super Bowl, went to two NFC championship games and had one of the most prolific offenses – if not the most prolific offense – in the NFL from 2006-09. The question isn't whether Payton and Co. can figure out what to do now that Graham is gone; they've already previously designed a highly efficient, effective offense without Graham. In short, you've gotta give something good in order to get something good, and Payton is betting that his offense can remain productive (again) without Graham.
Are the saints a playoff team? Or, is this a rebuilding phase?
Drew Brees remains the quarterback, so the Saints aren't rebuilding. "Retooling" may be a better word. I kind of despise doing the "coulda-woulda" thing, but here goes: The Saints lost four games by a total of nine points last season. That doesn't mean they didn't need to make changes, but it does mean that they were awfully close to being a playoff team last year. The NFC South title isn't being guarded inside an impenetrable fortress. On paper, it appears to be just as much for the taking now as it was down the stretch last season. If we are safe to assume that the Saints are going to move the ball and score on offense – as they always have under Payton – then they (again) just need the defense to be middle-of-the-pack in order to be successful. The changes on defense have to work, obviously, but it's not as if it needs to jump from No. 31 to No. 5. If it climbs up to 18 or 20, that may be good enough.
Training in WV again this year??
Yep, back to The Greenbrier. If you've got time, we'd love to see you there.
What are the chances the Saints select Bryce Petty in the draft to replace Drew Brees after he retires?
The Saints aren't going to reach for him. If he's in their bullpen of players who are slotted for that particular pick, and if drafting him makes more sense than, say, picking the wide receiver who's in the bullpen with him, then he'd be the guy. I'm still not convinced we should be dismissing Ryan Griffin – he has three years in the system, if you count his senior season at Tulane under former Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson – and although he only has played in preseason, he has played well in the exhibitions. But if the Saints like Petty and he fits, then he could be picked. But remember, this hasn't been a franchise that has given away positions based on draft status. They believe in competition (cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, the second-round pick last year, pretty much was redshirted because he wasn't ready and the Saints have cut draft picks that were beaten out by undrafted rookies in the past).
Do we have dates for training camp yet?
Not yet. Best bet is around the same time as last year – beginning around the last two weeks of July, ending probably mid-August. We don't know if any wrinkles will be added (scrimmages against other NFL teams, a practice at a New Orleans-area high school after the team returns) but when word comes down, check out NewOrleansSaints.com for all the details.
What are the chances the Saints go after a receiver with their first pick in the draft?
I think they're pretty slim. That doesn't mean the team won't pick a receiver – Payton noted that it may be the deepest position in the draft, and quality will be available. But I'm guessing that the defense will be the first priority in the draft and if a receiver is taken, it'll be later.