<
>

Saints' No. 1 need: a pass-rusher to pair with Cameron Jordan at DE

Cameron Jordan collected 10 of the Saints' 31 quarterback sacks in 2015. Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

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. 1 is defensive end.

Current depth chart:

Cameron Jordan. Age 26, signed through 2020. 2016 salary and bonuses: $9.6 million. 2016 salary-cap number: $8 million.

Bobby Richardson. Age 23, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2018. 2016 salary and bonuses: $525,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $526,667.

Obum Gwacham. Age 24, signed through 2018. 2016 salary and bonuses: $525,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $525,000.

Tavaris Barnes. Age 24, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2018. 2016 salary and bonuses: $525,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $527,500.

Phillip Hunt. Age 30, signed through 2016. 2016 salary and bonuses: $675,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $675,000.

Analysis:

Nothing could help the Saints more than a more disruptive pass rush.

Their 31 sacks tied them for 25th in the NFL last year. But quarterbacks have been way too comfortable against the Saints for the past two years now. Last season, New Orleans’ opponents posted a passer rating of 116.1 -- which shattered the previous NFL record of 110.9, set by the 0-16 Detroit Lions in 2008.

Saints coach Sean Payton singled out the defensive front seven and specifically the pass rush as his top area of concern last week during media interviews at the NFL scouting combine.

The good news is they have one stellar defensive end in Jordan, a two-time Pro Bowler who lived up to his five-year, $55 million contract extension last season. Jordan had 10 sacks despite playing through a back ailment. But New Orleans needs more help on the other end. Richardson proved to be a nice find as an undrafted free agent-turned-starter last year, but the Saints need even more.

I don’t expect the Saints to spend mega millions on any one elite free agent this year, since both Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis pointed out in their postseason press conferences how often that backfires for NFL teams. However, if they do pony up for a top-tier free agent, this is a spot where I could see them doing it.

Big names like Mario Williams, Jason Pierre-Paul and Tamba Hali may be too pricey. Pierre-Paul’s teammate with the New York Giants -- Robert Ayers -- may also be expensive. Cheaper options could include Chris Long, William Hayes, Derrick Shelby or Adrian Clayborn.

Whether or not the Saints add a DE in free agency, they could also look to the draft. I wrote Tuesday about how Clemson’s Shaq Lawson could be a good fit with the No. 12 pick after his impressive combine workouts. Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence is a dynamic pass-rusher, but he comes with character concerns. Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah also boosted his stock at the combine -- but whether it was enough to move up to No. 12 remains to be seen.

Draft analysts love the defensive line depth this year, so the Saints can find help beyond Round 1, as well.

Previous rankings:

No. 13: Running back

No. 12: Quarterback

No. 11: Offensive tackle

No. 10: Specialists

No. 9: Inside linebacker

No. 8: Wide receiver

No. 7: Safety

No. 6: Tight end

No. 5: Cornerback

No. 4: Guard/center

No. 3: Defensive tackle

No. 2: Outside linebacker