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Saints need Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro to help lead defensive revival

Jairus Byrd, right, hasn't provided much bang for the buck for the Saints because of back and knee injuries. AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2016 offseason – counting down from No. 13 to No. 1 in order of need for upgrades or replacements. At No. 7 is safety.

Current depth chart:

Jairus Byrd. Age 29, signed through 2019. 2016 salary and bonuses: $7.5 million. 2016 salary-cap number: $10.9 million.

Kenny Vaccaro. Age 24, signed through 2016 (with team option for 2017). 2016 salary and bonuses: $1.69 million. 2016 salary-cap number: $2.999 million.

Rafael Bush. Age 28, unrestricted free agent.

Jamarca Sanford. Age 30, unrestricted free agent.

Vinnie Sunseri. Age 24, signed through 2017. 2016 salary and bonuses: $600,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $644,125.

Alden Darby. Age 23, signed to reserve/futures contract.

Analysis:

This position can and should be one of New Orleans' greatest strengths. It just hasn't worked out that way yet.

As I said in this recent video report, the Saints have paid the price so far for trying to upgrade their safety position with Byrd and Vaccaro (while their discarded former safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper have gone on to bigger and better things). There is still time for the Saints to turn that around – but this feels like a make-or-break year.

Byrd might be the biggest wild card on the Saints' entire roster. Injuries wiped out his first year and a half in New Orleans after he signed a megadeal worth $9 million per year in 2013. He played decent during the second half of last season when he was finally healthy. But the Saints really need him to return to Pro Bowl form now that he should have a fully healthy offseason for the first time.

If so, Byrd could play a huge role in turning around New Orleans' woeful defense. If not, Byrd could become a salary cut at this time next year.

Vaccaro, meanwhile, quietly had a very good bounce-back season in 2015. And he, too, is a core player the Saints will count on this year. But the Saints need to decide this spring whether to exercise their fifth-year option on Vaccaro for the 2017 season (likely between $5.5 and $6 million). Otherwise he'll be a free agent next year.

The Saints also need to decide whether to re-sign Bush or invest in another veteran free agent at that No. 3 safety position.

I doubt the Saints will spend big on a safety in free agency since they already have so much invested. But it could be a priority in the draft since the long-term future is so uncertain.

Previous rankings:

No. 13: Running back

No. 12: Quarterback

No. 11: Offensive tackle

No. 10: Specialists

No. 9: Inside linebacker

No. 8: Wide receiver