Turning the Page on 2016 – another year in the rear view and another year of what could have been. I think we all knew months ago that the Saints would be sitting on the couch with the rest of us but watching the playoffs last week it really, REALLY sunk in.

I think it’s safe to say that 2017 is all or bust with this team as we know it, even Drew Brees hinted at this notion when he stated that he’s going to play out his contract and then take it year to year. I think he saw the writing on the wall when he signed basically only a one year extension. Remember when he talked of playing well into his 40’s this past offseason? The always overly optimistic Brees seems to have cooled his jets after another disappointing end.

I’m sure in a month or two Brees will be back to barking out his positive outlook on this team moving forward but to me his somber reaction after the season ended was telling – the clock is about to strike midnight.

Turning the Page a Look Back and a Look Forward for the Saints

I on the other hand have a really good feeling about what next year will bring. Why would I say that after a third straight losing season? Because I think this defense can be one of the best in the NFL. (If you laughed and closed this page I can’t say that I blame you) The Saints are only a couple of pieces on defense away.

Dennis Allen

Even though the results will say other wise I thought defensive coordinator Dennis Allen did about as well as any coach could do under the circumstances he was dealt. It started after mini camp last year on June 24th when the Saints placed CB Kyle Wilson on injured reserved and it didn’t let up.

On August 15th DT Sheldon Rankins broke his leg in training camp. On August 19th the often injured Keenan Lewis was cut. On August 31st CB Damian Swann was headed to IR. During the season opener on Sept 11th starting cornerback Delvin Breaux broke his leg. The very next week the Saints lost their other starting cornerback PJ Williams to a season ending concussion. On Oct 11th during practice safety Erik Harris tears his ACL.

Keep in mind all these injuries happened with only four games into the season. I know people don’t like to use injuries as an excuse but that’s a hard pill for any team to absorb much less a team learning a new scheme under a new defensive coordinator. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse the Saints lose one of their best defensive players (Kenny Vaccaro) for four games because he foolishly forgot that taking PED’s (Adderall) IS AGAINST THE RULES in the NFL.

Nick Fairley

One of the most important moves the Saints must make this off-season is inking DT Nick Fairley to a new deal. The 3 million dollar contract he signed this past year will undoubtedly go up this time around, the question is how much? Fairley was at times an unstoppable force in the interior line, something the Saints defense hasn’t had in years. Fairley has stated that he definitely wants to come back and I’m sure the Saints feel the same way but Mickey Loomis is going to have to wave his magic wand again and structure the contract so it doesn’t cripple the Saints in future years. But make no mistake Fairley is going to cost a nice chunk of change.

The Saints must also address a defensive end opposite Cam Jordan. A lot of debate has been to bring one in via free agency vs drafting one early in the draft. One thing is certain – good free agent defensive ends don’t grow on tree are very expensive, there’s a reason teams prioritize locking them up or at the very least place a tag on them. With the team looking to have around 30 million in cap space they can afford to make that splash in free agency for a defensive end but to me I think they should pick one up in the draft and instead focus on some of the other positions in free agency mainly cornerback (Stephone Gilmore, Darius Butler) guard (Ron Leary) inside linebacker (Kevin Minter, Zach Brown, Malcolm Smith)

Circle your calendars because March 9th is the start of free agency, one of my favorite parts of the off-season.

Of course after the Saints make their splash in free agency you can really start to narrow down the positions they will target in the draft. Will they pull the trigger on Tennessee stand out DE Derek Barnett if he is still on the board? Or will they upgrade at inside linebacker and take Alabama stud Reuben Foster. Will the Saints trade up? (please no) or will they trade down? (We have a better chance of the sun not coming up tomorrow) And that’s just in the 1st round.

Last year the Saints got both Michael Thomas and Vonn Bell in the second round, lets hope that they can strike gold again this year. If teams would have known then what we know now Thomas would have been a top ten pick.

A couple of months ago I spoke with somebody that I trust with talent evaluation – Rev Deuce Windham and he was very high on Barnett saying he is one of the more well-rounded defensive ends in this draft and if he’s there when the Saints are on the clock they need to pull the trigger. Rev is going to be in Mobile covering the Senior bowl for Canal street Chronicles so give him a follow on twitter at @RevDeuceWindham to catch real-time observations and reports on some prospects in this years draft.

Looking back on this past season I found it for the most part very entertaining besides a couple of games, Detroit and Atlanta come to mind but the Saints were in almost every game. I think the old saying “you make your own luck” really applies to how 2016 unfolded. Was the blocked extra point at the end of the Broncos game just bad luck? no, they seen a weakness and exploited it. Was losing to the Raiders on a two point conversion after a controversial pass interference call bad luck? no the Raiders went for the jugular and walked out a winner.

Those are just two examples of the heartbreak last year but up until the bitter end that was must see TV for Saints fans. It’s a game of inches is one of the most overused cliche’s in all of sports but in the NFL it really rings true. Three, four or five plays will be the difference of winning or losing (unless you are the Browns) I see the Saints building something special and when they put it together the days of Sean Payton putting his foot on the opposing teams neck will become the norm more than not.

In closing I want to give a shout out to Joe Vitt, Bill Johnson and Greg McMahon. The NFL is a bottom line business and rightfully or wrongfully three losing seasons ultimately cost them their jobs but make no mistake they walk with the NFL champions of 2009 forever.