As I was walking out the Dome Sunday evening thoroughly enjoying each and every Who Dat who stayed to the bitter end, my focus changed as I was walking to my car. I quickly realized it was here – Falcon hate week. Now I’m not going to get into that today (but I will before the game) but I realized how such a bad season can take the edge off one of the games we all look forward to. I guess it comes with the high expectations being squashed slowly week by week before our eyes.

Usually I’ll turn the radio on and listen to player interviews or Payton’s presser on the ride home but this night I drove in silence just thinking about this team. I reflected on when Christy and I was at the Saints facility when they announced the draft picks as it was going on and watching her scrambling with her notes on who we picked (Thanks, Christy, you are always prepared) I also looked back to those days with great expectations while watching the new rookies in Mini Camp, and then to when training camp rolled around just sitting in that devil heat taking notes and trying not to let all the sweat get on my little note pad as I was writing it was in itself a trick to behold – it was fun.

Those are the days of utmost optimism, as it should be – but then the games begin.

What I want to do here is look at the roster as it is now, yes it will change dramatically before camp kicks off but this is just a look at where the Saints are heading into the last week of the season.

Looking Within Before We Can Look Beyond Part 1 Offense

New Orleans Saints Draft Roster Analysis Offense

Tim Hightower

Tim Hightower

Quarterback

Drew Brees Forget what you read in those media splash reports, Drew Brees is the Saints quarterback next year, period. It seems people take Drew’s contract personally. Fans knew his contract was back loaded so they could wiggle the cap 4-5 years ago. The NFL is a ruthless business; but make no mistake, Brees played at an extremely high level through both his contracts in New Orleans, if only some of our other high priced free agents would have followed suit.

Now I’m not saying they won’t do something with his 30 million dollar cap hit, whether it’s converting some of his base salary ($19,750,000) to signing bonus or extending him or some other form of freeing up money.  My gut feeling is that they will, and you will see him here a couple of more years.

This brings us to the backups.  I haven’t seen enough of Garrett Grayson to say he is the heir apparent to Drew Brees but they spent a 3rd round pick on him for a reason. I do believe they will give him every shot this upcoming off season to win the back up spot to Brees.  I can tell you this– from what I watched in camp last year–the guy has a really strong arm and really puts a nice touch on the deep ball but sometimes had trouble figuring out some of the complexities of the mid range passing game of Payton’s route tree.

It’s going to be interesting to see if they bring back Luke McCown or Matt Flynn (both free agents next year).  It wouldn’t shock me if they brought both back seeing as they would be cheap cap wise. With McCown at age 34, his back surgery will be a determining factor because his play  during the Carolina game was damn good. Flynn is four years younger and has learned many playbooks as a journeyman, so he’s definitely serviceable in a back up role. Eiher way this should be an easy decision for the Saints to make whether to sign both players or just one.

Wide Receivers 

Marques Colston I might as well start with the best receiver to ever strap it up for the black n gold. First let me say this, if there was one player in the Saints history that I would put on the top with grit, professionalism and performance, he would be the one. When I look back at all the greats to play for the Saints–Ricky Jackson, Archie Manning, Drew Brees, Sam Mills, Morton Anderson, Willie Roaf and more, Colston is right there at the top and it cannot be understated what he has meant for this franchise.

Sadly father time is undefeated and all those warrior hits he has absorbed have taken their toll. The Saints have big decision regarding Colston’s final contract year coming up. Do they let him play out his final year and take the almost six million dollar cap hit or do they cut ties and eat $2,700,000 in dead money?  Does he take a pay cut or simply walk away? I hate that it has come to this for a player that has amassed 711 career receptions for 9,759 yards and an eye popping 72 touchdowns but I feel it is time to move on.

The future is Brandin CooksWille Snead and possibly Brandon Coleman.  I do expect the Saints to draft a wide receiver, and I do expect them to do so very early in the draft.

I hear people saying Cooks is not a number one receiver, and I say he already is. Cooks is tenth among wide outs in receiving yardage, and everyone in front of him is a number one receiver.

Here is the list (in order)

Julio Jones
Antonio Brown
DeAndre Hopkins
Odell Beckham Jr
Brandon Marshall
Allen Robinson
A.J. Green
Demaryius Thomas
Larry Fitzgerald
Brandin Cooks

Pretty good company I would say.  Just for comparison purposes, here are a few number one wide outs that are behind Cooks. Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry, Calvin Johnson, T.Y. Hilton and Amari Cooper.

I do think the Saints need a big bodied receiver to step into the role Colston has played for years and maybe Coleman is that guy. In order for that to happen he must be more consistent game to game, play to play. On talent Colston has is finding a soft spot that’s not in the playbook but he and Drew with a simple glance know where it’s going to be.  Those are big shoes to fill for Coleman but we’ve seen it in flashes this year.  He needs to be more consistent.

Speaking of consistent, then there’s Mr. Snead. This guy shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing looking at him from a physical standpoint but nobody can measure heart and work ethic. He wants to be great–you can sense it People like to compare Snead to Lance Moore, and I can see that with the way he is used in this offense but that’s shortchanging him, he has a chance to be much better. Snead exploded in his first year with the Saints. It took Moore three years for his presence to be felt. I really can’t wait to see what Snead’s second year brings.

Running Backs

This is where it gets interesting.

Mark Ingram is the Saints bell cow and clear cut number one running back. His new deal last off season means it will remain that way for the foreseeable future deservedly so but with the rest of the backfield it gets murky.

Tim Hightower’s performance the last few weeks has really thrown a monkey wrench into who will be Mark Ingram’s main back up, as Khiry Robinson was prior to his gruesome leg injury. Both players are cheap to keep, Hightower played for the vet minimum this year, and Robinson was playing for $459,529. Here’s the kicker–Hightower is a free agent after this year and Robinson is a restricted free agent this coming off season.

What do you do? I think a lot depends on Robinson’s health next year as to whether they tender him or let him test the waters. Hightower, on the other hand, I think you ink him early on to a reasonable deal. He’s earned that. Last year in training camp I paid close attention to Hightower as far as his acceleration and cutting ability and needless to say I wasn’t happy when he got cut. Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistake twice.

And now for the curious case of C.J. Spiller with his 36 carries and 112 yards. Where do I begin? To be honest I don’t know what to believe with various reports from he couldn’t learn the playbook to his questionable work ethic all the way down to Payton saying his leg strength is not there after his training camp injury. What I do know is that he was a huge waste of money this year, and Payton waited way too long to inactivate him when it’s been long apparent that something was wrong. Travaris Cadet while having a pretty good game as his last minute replacement is a stop gap measure at best. At this point, the only way to look at is Spiller is a free agency bust. Marcus Murphy is a late round special teamer who showed flashes in the return game but also had his share of mistakes. Let’s hope he grows in 2016, and the Saints can ease him into the offense a little more. I’m not counting on it though.

Offensive line 

You can’t get those backs going or Brees and the receivers clicking without decent offensive line play. This year has been a mixed bag. At times they were rolling and at times it looks as if they are playing on their heels. Inconsistency is one word you don’t want associated with line play but that’s what you got this year.

Terron Armstead is the anchor of this line and has been solid all season long even though he has played through a lingering knee injury. After next year, Armstead’s rookie contract is up> What the Saints do will have cap ramifications for years to come. Do they exercise the 5th year option? Extend him? Let his contract run it’s course. Play hardball and throw a franchise tag on him. Who knows at this point but he will cash in–that I do know.

Max Unger has been a welcome relief finally bringing stability to the center position. He’s been everything as advertised – Just solid no up and downs. You know what you are going to get week to week with him. I wish I could say the same for the guard position to his left and right.

Last June when it was apparent that the left guard job was Tim Lelito’s to lose I decided to look at every snap he played in his four starts as a Saint (you can read the piece here ) and I have to admit I thought he was ready for the spot – I was wrong. The misdiagnosis was on full display when Payton replaced him with a rookie tackle. Senio Kelemente had his chance also to step up but proved no better than Lelito. The Saints gambled last off season not addressing the need to upgrade the spot and hedged their bets that Lelito would step up. They can’t make the same mistake this off season and must either draft a guard or bring one in via free agency.

With the right guard spot I fully expect Jahri Evans to get the nod again next year. If he’s healthy, he can get the job done but that’s a big if. He has battled numerous injuries in recent years. With Evans restructuring his deal last year, it almost makes it impossible to move on from him due to his dead money hit of $7,100,000.  I think the Saints have too much on their plate roster wise to address both guard positions, and they will probably cross their fingers that Evans can hold up for another year in the trenches.

I also think the Saints bring back journeyman guard Mike McGlynn as a back up. He would be relatively cheap plus he has a ton of experience in this league and at 30 years old has some gas left in the tank.

Now onto the elephant in the room – Zach Strief – He has three years left on his five year contract he signed back in 2014. His drop off this past year to me was one of the most surprising developments of this 2015 squad. He has been one of the highest rated right tackles in recent years. It makes me wonder if there is some type of ailment he’s been dealing with that we don’t know about.

I don’t think they move on from Strief next year.  The dead money on his contract is a marginal 3.3 mil.  But the torch has been passed to Andrus Peat – the jack of all trades. The 13th overall pick last year started slowly as Payton eased him in mainly in jumbo packages early on (ironically a role that Strief used to hold and is now manned by Kelemente). As the season wore on, you would see Peat man every position on the line except center with his last start at right tackle where I expect him to start next year. I really like Peat’s run blocking and his pass blocking has improved. I was high on this kid when they drafted him, and this year hasn’t changed my viewpoint. He’s going to be a stud for years to come.

Tony Hills is another career journeyman backup that the Saints could re-sign for cheap if they choose to, I think they bring him back as insurance in case some of the young players the Saints bring in for camp don’t pan out.

Tight end

What can you say about the year the ageless wonder Benjamin Watson had? This past off season everyone was scratching their heads over the surprising trade of Jimmy Graham. Little did we know that Watson would respond with 68 receptions for 766 yards and five touchdowns with one game left. I think you make him a priority off season signing but the Saints have a to be smart about doing it. At 35 years old, how long can he hold up? Watson is smart enough to know the same.  A one or two year contract that makes sense for both sides would be in order.

Josh Hill fell off the map with a disappointing 15 receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Be weary of any player Sean Payton drools over to the media and professes his “love.” Fool me once but never twice. All kidding aside, it was a disappointing season for Hill but the emergence of Watson may have played his targets. Hill is a restricted free agent next year, and I can see the Saints doing a minimum tender on him like they did with Rafael Bush when they were able to snatch him from Atlanta with a better deal if they so choose to.

And then there was the trade for Michael Hoomanawanui that caught everyone off guard, and turned out to be a solid trade. The guy is a really good blocker in both pass protection and run blocking, and can slip out every now and then and make a play down the field. Hooman is a free agent next year, and I expect the Saints to offer him a decent deal. He won’t break the bank and can be a solid contributor.

It seems the Saints are going to activate practice squad tight end ReShaun Allen to the active roster with Josh Hill’s status up in the air after leaving the game last Sunday with a concussion. I don’t know much about this player but I have a feeling he will see some snaps. The Saints  obviously like him and brought him in from Seattle’s practice squad. There will be a small  window to see what he can bring. More than likely, next August with camp grinding away will be a better gauge.

If you made it this far reading my way too long ramblings, thank you! I’ll have part two going through the defense next week.

Well we have one more game against the hated Falcons, and I want the Saints to pulverize them senseless – to hammer home the point that even after this bad season we still own them and to that I say, as always….WHO DAT!!!