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Saints mailbag: Top reasons for hope, doubt?

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

@MikeTriplett: The answer to that first question is still Drew Brees. He had a disturbing amount of turnovers in 2014, but he had some awfully good performances, too. And he remains a huge asset -- one of the top five players at the most important position in the game -- as long as the Saints don’t require him to do it all by himself.

The Saints’ entire defense, their offensive line and their receiving corps (including Jimmy Graham) all underachieved this past season. If those units get back to a “normal” level, the Saints can quickly get back to being what they were in 2013. If all of those units can slightly overachieve, New Orleans is still capable of a Super Bowl run (see overachieving championship teams that got hot at the right time, such as the 2012 Ravens or 2011 Giants).

My biggest doubt, however, is how much this offense seems to have aged. This applies to Brees to a certain extent, but the guards and receivers even more. I still think Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs and Marques Colston are solid, serviceable -- words like that. But a huge reason for New Orleans’ success in 2009 and 2011 was that those guys were elite and outstanding.

Opposing defenses seem to have figured out how to take away the deep balls over the middle of the field that the Saints used to thrive on, forcing Brees to check down all the time. I trust Brees and coach Sean Payton to come up with some good adjustments, but this offense clearly doesn’t put the same fear into opponents that it used to.

@MikeTriplett: I don’t really expect any “stunners.” But then again, they wouldn’t be stunners if I expected them, would they?

I’ve written a lot about the most likely salary-related casualties (Brodrick Bunkley, David Hawthorne and possibly Colston -- though I think there’s a good chance the Saints could work out a pay cut with Colston instead). You could potentially throw high-priced guys such as Evans, Grubbs and Curtis Lofton into that conversation, but I think they’re still too valuable to let go, especially since there are no obvious replacements waiting in the wings.

After that, there are the underachievers who got demoted during the season, such as Corey White and free agents Patrick Robinson and Robert Meachem. And perhaps the team parts way with other free-agent starters such as Mark Ingram, Jonathan Goodwin, Parys Haralson and Shayne Graham.

Outside linebacker Junior Galette is a big wild card because of his pending legal issues, though there’s no indication yet that a release would be likely.

Beyond that, some of the other guys who underachieved on defense (Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks, Kenny Vaccaro) have too much potential to let go. Instead, the demands on players and coaches alike has to be on figuring out how to better tap into that potential.

@MikeTriplett: I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I get this question. My answer is a firm “maybe.” I agree that the Saints do seem to have more positions than usual where they need to get younger and start developing talent for the future. And they've talked about needing to re-evaluate how they do everything from top to bottom.

At the same time, you could argue that their window to win championships with Brees and other veterans is growing smaller, so they can’t afford to take too much of a long-term approach.

Either way, they won’t make that decision in January or February based purely on philosophy. It’s a decision that will depend on who’s available when the clock starts ticking down toward their pick on draft night.

@MikeTriplett: That would be a big leap to make right now to suggest that Ryan Griffin could one day replace Brees as the Saints’ starter. Perhaps it could happen, but we’ll have to see him win the backup job first and maybe even play in a regular season game or two over the next two years.

I do, however, think Griffin has shown enough potential to take that next step forward in the progression. I thought he might win the backup job over veteran Luke McCown this past year after some impressive performances in training camp and the preseason. He should be even better in Year 3.

I see Griffin in the mold of Chase Daniel, another young backup the Saints developed. And since they have Griffin, they don’t have to reach for just any draft pick. But I still think the Saints would be willing to draft another young developmental project if they really have conviction on a specific player.