GM Mickey Loomis: Jimmy Graham traded to help fix defense

General manager Mickey Loomis explained that the New Orleans Saints traded Jimmy Graham because they felt like they "had to make a bold move" to help improve their defense.

"I think at the end of the day, it comes down to this," Loomis told SiriusXM Radio. "We've had a good offensive team for a number of years. ... We feel like we do well on that side of the ball, but we've got to improve ourselves on defense. And there's three ways to get players in our league. That's through free agency, through the draft, and then trades. We kind of believe in using all avenues.

"So we took one of our assets on offense and turned it into some resources hopefully we can improve our defense with. But it was a tough decision, because love Jimmy Graham. He's been a great player for us. ...

"But, man, in order to improve ourselves we felt like we had to make a bold move, and so we did."

The Saints didn't immediately help their defense, since the only player they received in the swap was two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger. But they also upgraded from a fourth-round draft pick to a first-rounder. And they wiped $27 million off the books that was owed to Graham over the next three years (though the salary-cap savings won't really kick in until next year).

The Saints can use that space, though, by back-loading the cap costs on any new deals they sign -- an approach they've been using for years. And they've already targeted one of the top free-agent cornerbacks in Green Bay Packers veteran Tramon Williams, who was scheduled to arrive for a visit Tuesday.

As for the draft, Loomis said an emphasis will be placed on defense with picks No. 13 and 31. And he said there are no immediate plans to package those picks to move up.

"But you know how these drafts go," Loomis said, hinting that the Saints will explore all options based on their draft board at the time.

Asked how the Saints plan to fill the tight end void, Loomis complimented current backups Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill and said, "Obviously we'll be looking for another guy, whether that comes in the draft or later in free agency we'll wait and see. ... And Drew has a way of throwing a lot of these guys open."

Loomis was also asked if the team approached Brees about restructuring his contract, which still owes him $39 million over the next two years (with cap costs of $26.4 million in 2015 and $27.4 million in 2016.)

"No, that wasn't necessary for us," Loomis said.

That makes sense, since I never expected the Saints to demand a pay cut from Brees, despite his struggles with turnovers in 2014. I thought an extension might make sense. But if they wanted to simply restructure contracts to push money into the future, then they had other avenues that made more sense than Brees' deal.

As I keep saying, the Saints aren't being forced into these player releases just because of their cap situation -- and there could be more to come. They're mostly making these decisions in the wake of a 7-9 season that has forced them to abandon the status quo.