METAIRIE, La. -- With offseason workouts and minicamps in the rearview mirror and training camps just a few weeks away, we assess the New Orleans Saints’ offseason moves and assign a letter grade in the video above.
Best move: Although I’m excited to see how dynamic runner/receiver C.J. Spiller fits in the Saints’ offense, my vote for best move goes to the signing of cornerback Brandon Browner, who addressed the team’s biggest needs both on and off the field. The No. 2 cornerback spot was arguably New Orleans’ most glaring weakness last season, as opposing quarterbacks picked apart a rotating mix of players in that role. Even if Browner doesn’t play at a Pro Bowl-level, the physical 6-foot-4, 221-pounder gives the Saints a presence they were sorely lacking. Plus, Browner already has embraced a vocal leadership role with his new team, something else the Saints were sorely lacking. Browner played a similar role on each of the past two Super Bowl championship teams (the New England Patriots in 2014 and Seattle Seahawks in 2013). “You’ve got a new voice from a guy that’s up front. And he’s been up front with every team he’s been with,” Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “And all he does is win.”
Riskiest move: This is an easy choice, since the Saints traded away their second-best player -- tight end Jimmy Graham -- to the NFC rival Seahawks. On the surface, the idea is nuts: Graham is one of the NFL’s elite playmakers, and he’ll probably thrive in Seattle. However, I do understand the general concept. The Saints have had a top-six offense in each of the past nine years, they won a Super Bowl without Graham, and they’re confident they can continue to field a top offense without Graham and receiver Kenny Stills (whom they traded to the Miami Dolphins). The Saints used the resources to help build up a defense and offensive line that both needed reinforcing. They’re betting that will help quarterback Drew Brees even more than his old playmakers would have, since Brees coughed up 20 turnovers last season while being pressured both literally (inconsistent line play) and figuratively (playing catch-up too often). "Drew understands it would be nice for us to get to 26 points and win by seven instead of being down 10,” coach Sean Payton said this offseason.
No more Kool-Aid: The best thing that happened to the Saints this offseason was going 7-9 last season. The entire organization had grown a bit too complacent, as Payton has stressed this offseason. And the defense in particular got humbled after players and Ryan admitted they “drank the Kool-Aid a little bit too much” last year when they were receiving a ton of preseason hype. This year, significant changes have been made to the scheme, the personnel, the coaching staff and the attitude. And no one is making any lofty predictions this summer. “We did a lot of talkin’ last year and got our butts kicked,” Ryan said. “I know we’ll be great, but, hey, we’ll just prove it this year.”
Training camp outlook: Almost all of the Saints’ new additions are aimed toward getting more physical. So we won’t really get an idea of how that’s panning out until they finally strap on the pads in training camp practices and preseason games. Up until now it’s been tough to evaluate the revamped offensive line with new starters Max Unger and Tim Lelito and first-round pick Andrus Peat, who’s working with the second string for now. It’s been equally tough to evaluate a defense that is counting on Browner’s physical play in the secondary, more athleticism courtesy of rookie linebackers Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha, and a huge bounce-back year from defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks, among others.