Junior Galette: Saints' defensive players better than before

METAIRIE, La. -- Junior Galette clearly doesn't feel like any of the New Orleans Saints' defensive problems this season stem from the longtime veterans they let go this offseason.

"The guys that replaced them are better than the guys we had. It's not even close. Across the board," Galette said of departed veterans Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins (he didn't mention Jabari Greer).

The subject came up because Galette was talking about how much the Saints' upcoming opponent, the Carolina Panthers, miss receiver Steve Smith's leadership and toughness. He said it made "no sense" for Carolina to let Smith go in the offseason.

But when asked about the Saints doing the same thing with so many of their longtime leaders this offseason, Galette sang a much different tune.

"C'mon, who are you talking about?" Galette said with a laugh. "Each player that you could name, it's not even close. I'll take Kenny Vaccaro any day over any safety. And I'll take Cameron [Jordan] over any defensive end. Jairus Byrd over any safety. And [Curtis] Lofton is putting up numbers Vilma never put up. So it is what it is."

When asked to clarify whether he meant the way those players were playing at the end of their time in New Orleans or in their prime, Galette said, "Compared to any stage. I feel like, [Smith] has never been a better player than me, regardless from whatever stage he was at. Or Cam."

"I feel like we have the leaders we have here now are just better than the leaders we had in the past. You know, I've been here [since 2010]. It is what it is," Galette said. "Yeah, they won a Super Bowl. But we're young, and we'll get through it."

Some of the players Galette mentioned weighed in later on Twitter:

Galette's comments came as a surprise -- at least the passion of the comments -- especially at a time when the Saints' defense is struggling so badly. They're ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed, last in third-down percentage and last -- by a large margin -- in the defensive efficiency formula created by ESPN Stats and Information (minus-8.96 expected points added per game).

That's even worse than 2012 (minus-7.0) when the Saints set the NFL record for most yards allowed in a season.

If I'm playing amateur psychologist, I'd say Galette might be overly defensive about the criticism that the Saints' defense and Rob Ryan have received this seson, with many analysts wondering how much they miss the guys who left.

It's fair to say the Saints haven't missed those guys based on the way their careers had started to tail off over the past two years (except for Greer, who was still playing at a high level before he suffered a career-ending knee injury).

But those former veterans were better in their primes than Galette gave them credit for, especially Smith and Vilma.