<
>

Ranking Saints needs: No. 1 cornerback

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2015 offseason – ranked from 1-12 in order of the team’s need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

Keenan Lewis. Age 28, signed through 2017. 2015 salary and bonuses: $2.55 million. 2015 salary-cap number: $4.85 million.

Terrence Frederick. Age 24, scheduled to become exclusive rights free agent in 2016. 2015 salary and bonuses: $510,000. 2015 salary-cap number $510,000.

Patrick Robinson. Age 27, unrestricted free agent.

Corey White. Age 24, signed through 2015. 2015 salary and bonuses: $1.574 million. 2015 salary-cap number: $1.618 million.

Brian Dixon. Age 24, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2017. 2015 salary and bonuses: $510,000. 2015 salary-cap number: $511,666.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Age 24, signed through 2017. 2015 salary and bonuses: $585,306. 2015 salary-cap number: $826,530.

A.J. Davis.. Age 25, exclusive rights free agent.

Analysis

If you’re feeling déjà vu, it’s because this was also No. 1 on my list at this time last year. The Saints still desperately need a No. 2 cornerback opposite Lewis after Robinson, White, Jean-Baptiste and free-agent veteran Champ Bailey all failed to seize the job last year.

I think the Saints must sign an experienced veteran free agent to fill that role since they can’t count on a draft pick to step in right away or for Jean-Baptiste to develop rapidly enough after he barely played as a rookie. In a perfect world, New Orleans would find the latest version of Lewis or Jabari Greer – No. 1 corners who came at affordable rates in free agency.

The bad news is that will cost a good bit of money that the Saints don’t have in ample supply. But the good news is there should be a good variety of choices on the market (from marquee names such as Byron Maxwell, Kareem Jackson, Brandon Flowers, Tramon Williams and Antonio Cromartie to young guys on the rise such as Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver to older vets such as Ike Taylor and Rashean Mathis).

The Saints are set with Lewis as a true No. 1 corner who held his own (and then some) against No. 1 receivers such as Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin during an otherwise-disastrous year for the secondary. Frederick, Jean-Baptiste and Dixon should be back, too, since they’re young players with chances to develop further.

I’m less certain about Robinson and White, though. I don’t know what the Saints think of Robinson, who is an unrestricted free agent. He seemed to bounce back well after an early season demotion. But then he got demoted again late in the year. White got demoted even further at the end of the year -- being moved to safety. And now White is due to make more than $1.5 million, which could price him off the roster.

ESPN scouting insider Matt Williamson’s take: “My biggest reservation about picking [the Saints] as Super Bowl champ last year was corner. And I thought Lewis was a quality player. He was one of the few that actually I thought played better than expected. I thought he had a really good year for a majority of the season. And I would call him a No. 1 corner right now, which is big praise. But they had no others. And I knew that going into the season, but I figured, ‘Hey, [safety Jairus] Byrd is going to be in deep center field. He’ll make up for a lot of issues. They’ll cause a lot of turnovers. [Safety Kenny] Vaccaro is going to be a [Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy] Polamalu, all-over type of guy. [Defensive coordinator] Rob Ryan will dial up a bunch to help that off-corner and their nickel corners. If you only have one major weakness, you should be able to scheme around it.’ But their second and third corners got attacked all year, and they just had no answer for it.”

(on Jean-Baptiste): “Jean-Baptiste, you give him an incomplete grade. At least that’s possible that he develops into what they thought when they drafted him. He was a high draft pick, he’s got good size obviously. Maybe he emerges and is a starter, but I don’t know much about him, I don’t remember him on the field much.”

Previous rankings:

No. 12: Specialists

No. 11: Quarterback

No. 10: Tight end

No. 9: Running back

No. 8: Safety

No. 7: Offensive tackle

No. 6: Wide receiver

No. 5: Defensive line

No. 4: Inside linebacker

No. 3: Guard/center

No. 2: Outside linebacker