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John DeShazier's New Orleans Saints Mailbag senior writer tackles your questions

Associated Press photos of Nick Fairley.

If it's Friday, it's mailbag time. You know the drill – you send 'em, I try to answer 'em and we all live happily ever after. Lots of submissions this week, hopefully yours was included.

‏@thnikaman89: Do you know if the New Orleans Saints have any interest in Ohio State receiver Mike Thomas?

JD:The short answer is, "Of course." But that's the answer for every franchise. He's a talented receiver and every team needs one of those. The variable is whether he fits the value that the Saints have placed on him, at the position where they would want to select him. For instance, it wouldn't be smart to take him in the first round if they have a second-round grade on him, or pick him at No. 12 if he's slotted at No. 20 on their board. There's a reason that teams invest thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in scouting; no need to have a scouting department if you're not going to use the advice it dispenses. So, again, their due diligence probably means they're interested in him. But we don't know where his value lies with the franchise, in relation to the picks it has (Nos. 12, 47, 78, 112, 152 and 237 overall).

‏@sylvan_loftin: What are the chances that the Saints trade down in Round 1 this year? If they do, how far and what is the proper compensation?

JD:Moving down in the draft always depends on a couple of things: Whether the player(s) you covet is off the board, whether the player(s) you covet still will be on the board several picks later and whether you can find a trade partner. So the Saints can stand pat and pick they player they want at No. 12, or they can trust that a player they want will be available several picks later after having traded down. The chances that they'll fall back? I don't have a percentage, but if they can find the right deal and still get a player who can help in his rookie year, why not? As for compensation, I'll give you two recent scenarios. Two years ago, in order to move up to draft receiver Brandin Cooks, the Saints swapped places in the first round with Arizona (No. 27 to No. 20) and also gave the Cardinals their third-round pick that year (No. 91). Last year San Diego swapped placed with San Francisco from No. 17 to No. 15 by also giving the Niners a fourth-round pick in '15 and a fifth-rounder this year. Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis knows exactly what compensation correlates with moving up or down in the draft, but those are a couple of examples of what has been done in the recent past.

‏@TBuras:Based on who we have now, who do you see us taking in the first three rounds? Do we trade down?

JD:I still think the Saints go defense first, even with the gains made in free agency. The "must" of acquiring a pass rusher hasn't been fulfilled, and given what Coach Sean Payton has said, the team believes pass rush help will be available in this draft. Taking a receiver in the second or third round wouldn't shock me, because there isn't much known, proven depth there behind the top three (Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman). As for the possibility of trading down, see the above question and answer, which should address your query also.

‏@Robertj1380: Do you see the Saints defense ranking in the top 15 this year?

JD:Depends on which defensive ranking you're talking about. Most people concentrate on yards allowed; the important number is points allowed. If the Saints are 25th in yards allowed, but 18th in points allowed, I think they'd take that and run with it. That said, I expect improvement in the points allowed department, and not just because the odds simply favor making an improvement from last (29.8 points allowed per game in 2015) because it can't get much worse. New Orleans made a couple of significant free agent additions (linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackle Nick Fairley) that should help, it will have a healthier cornerback situation (Keenan Lewis returns) and it will have an entire offseason for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to implement his system. If the belief comes to fruition that the team better will fit its personnel to its system, then the improvement will show in the points allowed department.

‏@lksmddk94: What are your thoughts on the Saints taking a wide receiver in Round 1? Will they draft the best player available?

JD:A receiver at No. 12, I don't think so. That's based on what Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis have alluded to as positions of emphasis for the Saints; namely, improving the defense is paramount, especially the front seven. That doesn't mean it's not a smokescreen to throw everyone off the trail, but it's no secret that the Saints want and need to make great strides defensively. Taking the best *defensive *player available may be closer to reality than taking the best player available.

@Saints_news9: Will the Saints offense decline with the departure of Marques Colston? Is Brandon Coleman the answer? Do we draft a wide receiver?

JD:No, maybe and probably. Based on what the Saints have accomplished offensively every year since Payton arrived in 2006, the offense won't decline with Colston's release. I know, he's the franchise leader in every major receiving category (touchdowns, catches, yards), but he was limited for much of last season – he had the worst statistical season of his Saints career – and the team still finished second in yards per game (403.8), first in passing yards per game (310.6) and eighth in points per game (25.5). Coleman looks the part (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) and down the stretch, he played the part (16 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown in the last five games) of a suitable replacement. His ceiling is as tall as he is. But it won't be a surprise if the Saints draft a receiver, given the lack of proven depth behind the top three receivers.

‏@datwhodat1965:Are we looking to draft a possession wide receiver in place of Marques Colston? Or is it possible that he completes one more magic season with us?

JD:Brandon Coleman slides into the role of the heir apparent to Colston; please, though, let's drop the comparisons. They're unfair to Colston, the best and most productive receiver in franchise history. Let's allow Coleman to be Coleman, not project him to be Colston. The Saints will be looking in the draft to address a need for depth at receiver, but I don't think they'll be looking to bring back Colston unless something drastic occurs during the offseason.

‏@KornBrad: Have the Saints told James Laurinaitis whether he's calling the defense for sure?

JD:That's the plan. That's the role he served with the Rams, where he became the franchise's all-time leader in tackles, and it's one they hope he can fill in New Orleans. His addition will allow Stephone Anthony to slide to Sam linebacker, relieve Anthony of the play-calling duties, allow him to play freer and, hopefully, to make more impact plays.

‏@ToddShw1: Greg Hardy is still out there. The Saints really need that fire.

JD:They don't need the gasoline he carries along with it. Did you see his interview? You still want him after watching that? I mean, I know the team isn't putting together a church choir, but geez. Sometimes, the talent isn't worth the sideshow. But that's just my opinion.

‏@TheCWPalmer: When are we going to see a restructuring of Drew Brees' deal?

JD:We'll see it when we see it, is the best answer I can give you. I know everyone wants it to be done yesterday, but they're called "negotiations" for a reason. There's a give-and-take process that has to be done, and an agreement that's pleasing to both sides simply hasn't yet been reached.

‏@rePHIned: What are the best four inside and zero-technique defensive tackles for the Saints to draft? And can they really afford the elite talent?

JD:I'm no Kiper or McShay, but the consensus – in no particular order – seems to be A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed (Alabama), Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) and Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech). Of course, the order and the consensus shift daily so don't hold me to this list. As to affording the "elite" talent, I'm going to assume you're speaking of unrestricted free agents. Always, that depends on the value a team assigns to a particular free agent as well as how much money it has available under the salary cap. Short answer: The Saints have shown creativity when it comes to maneuvering under a tight camp, so when/if they have wanted a particular player, they've been aggressive in their pursuit. But there's an economic reality created by the salary cap, and there also is the reality of whether the Saints' assigned value is less than the value that the player assigns himself, or is able to secure. You don't want to pay more for a player than you think he's worth, and you don't want to get into a bidding war when the price tag exceeds your budget.

‏@ackmo60: Does trading up for Joey Bosa seem like an option at this point? Or is there defensive talent preferred over him?

JD:Let's go after the second question first. Bosa possibly could be the best defensive player in the draft, so there's not much, if any, defensive talent preferred over him. No projection has him being on the board at No. 12, when the Saints pick. But the price to move up in order to pick him – most projections seem to have him at No. 4 – would be steep. I don't think the Saints will be looking to give up future draft picks (high picks, likely, to move that far) in order to pick him.

‏@PapaBear: I feel that the Saints have made some good defensive moves so far. What other moves should be made defensively?

‏@TerriyakiPanda: What moves on the defense do you think need to be made to help ease the pressure off Drew Brees and the offense?

JD:The needs at linebacker appear to have been addressed. Players who can rush the passer – sacks, pressures, force him to be speed up the process because of the sacks and pressures – are next on the list. The team seems to feel pretty good about its secondary, but in all honesty, a secondary usually is only as good as the pass rush.

‏@Bigkev504: How close are the Saints to re-signing running back Tim Hightower?

JD:It's a deal that both sides want done, and that's begging to be done. The relationship was mutually beneficial; I can't give you a date on when, but I expect Hightower to be a Saint based on what the team has said.

‏@saints1026: Does anyone know if the Saints have any spring training camps that are open to the public?

JD:I don't believe the actual offseason dates have been released (if so, I haven't seen them). My advice? Continue checking; when the dates are released, they'll be on the team website and they'll note which availabilities are open to the public (usually minicamp).

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