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Saints mailbag: Draft an offensive lineman? A QB?

Thanks for submitting your New Orleans Saints questions to me on Twitter. Send them anytime @MikeTriplett.

@MikeTriplett: First of all, the Saints never like to pigeonhole themselves into a need like that, because that's when you wind up reaching for players. They believe in the "best available player" concept in the draft, especially since it often takes two or three years before a player hits his stride -- and needs can change quickly over a span like that. But I do completely agree that they have ve got to start finding some young offensive linemen to develop. It must be a priority at some point in the draft, if not free agency as well. At some point soon, New Orleans will need to replace veterans Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs, Zach Strief and Jonathan Goodwin. Tim Lelito seems like a natural replacement at center, but there are no obvious in-house candidates waiting in the wings at the other positions. That is why I don't see the Saints letting Evans or Grubbs go this offseason. Although they both had down years compared to their Pro Bowl standards, they are still above average, and better than any cheaper alternatives. In a perfect world, the Saints would draft this year's version of Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin with the 13th pick -- but until the NFL switches to an auction draft format, they can't count on it. As for the other part of your question, you can throw out the "trends" idea in this case. The Saints don't have a philosophy against drafting offensive linemen early, just because it hasn't happened much. I know they had at least one offensive lineman in their "cloud" of targets in the first round when they selected safety Kenny Vaccaro two years ago. Mickey Loomis was the general manager when they traded up for offensive tackle Jammal Brown in Round 1 in 2005. And they took offensive tackle Charles Brown in the second round in 2010.

@MikeTriplett: I know this will be an extremely popular question in the months leading up to the draft, and I'll be curious to see what happens myself. The Saints don't need to draft a quarterback early just yet, with Drew Brees turning 36 in less than a week. Yes, Brees' struggles with turnovers this season were a big disappointment. But I haven't seen any major signs of regression yet, and Brees should remain a high-quality starter for at least two more years, if not four or five. So I don't think it would be smart to use a first- or second-round pick on a guy who might not even play before his rookie contract runs out. But we have at least reached the window where the Saints can take a shot on a guy in Round 2 or later if they really have a conviction on him. Maybe they would consider making a switch in two years, or maybe they could even develop and trade a guy if Brees stays healthy and shows no real signs of drop-off. Keep in mind, the Saints also like the potential of third-year pro Ryan Griffin, whom they have been developing as an undrafted backup. So there is no need to reach unless they really like a guy.

@MikeTriplett: It's impossible to predict just how much Ryan Pace will be missed since he was part of a collaborative effort in the Saints' front office. But he obviously will be missed since the Saints have always spoken so highly of him and backed it up with two promotions during the greatest era of success in franchise history. What makes this really unique is the timing. If things were going well for the Saints, I'd predict that they just continue to promote from within and continue the same collaboration, since college scouting director Rick Reiprish and pro scouting director Terry Fontenot are well-respected and have each been with the Saints for more than a decade. But at a time when the Saints have vowed to make significant changes at every level of the organization, I wonder if they will consider more of a shake-up, possibly bringing in someone from the outside.

@MikeTriplett: The correct answer to any questions about improving the Saints' defense is probably "all of the above." But I think cornerback has to be the No. 1 priority. In order to play any defensive scheme -- blitzing or dropping back in coverage -- you've got to be able to trust your cornerbacks. And opposing quarterbacks have to be hesitant to take shots at them. Last season, opposing quarterbacks routinely fired the ball early and often, attacking the Saints' unproven cornerbacks even when they seemed to have good position. And that hurts the pass rush. The pass rush wasn't good enough in 2015. But the Saints still have a lot of good, young talent across the defensive line that underachieved in 2015. They should be able to bring the same guys back up front and have better success if they play up to their potential while the cornerback position gets upgraded.

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