Throughout Tuesday on Twitter, most of the Who Dat Nation following were anticipating the potential signings of Kansas City Chiefs running back, Dexter McCluster, and San Francisco 49ers safety, Donte Whitner. While neither of those moves panned out, we patiently sat and waited for the team to announce a signing.
The NFL world was beyond shocked that evening with the news of former Buffalo Bills safety, Jairus Byrd, getting on a plane to New Orleans. I mean, seriously, who saw the Saints being a possible suitor for Byrd? There was simply ‘no money’ according to the numbers. Byrd arrived in New Orleans, and the contract signing was announced shortly thereafter. This move suggests that Saints general manager, Mickey Loomis, had this all figured out from the beginning.
Byrd, who is arguably the best free agent on the market this off-season, inserts himself in an already improved New Orleans Saints defense, led by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints gained an incredible amount of praise for improving from their statistically ‘worst’ defense in NFL history in 2012 to a fourth-ranked defense in 2013.
Despite the improved ranking, and finishing fourth in the league in team sacks with 49.0, which was the most the team had had since 2001, there was a missing element from the Saints defense. That missing element was takeaways and touchdowns.
New Orleans tied with the Minnesota Vikings for a 24th overall ranking in defensive interceptions, finishing the season with 12. The Saints would tie with the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars for 11th in the league with 16 forced fumbles, but wind up at a 24th overall ranking with 7 recovered fumbles, tying with the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and Baltimore Ravens. The defense would also finish as the only squad in the NFL to not register a single defensive touchdown off an interception or fumble.
Jairus Byrd fits a bill that would help solve the team’s shortcomings in 2013.
One of the most famous sports clichés remains, ‘Defense wins championships’. Whether you love this saying, or hate this saying, one has to respect the meaning of it. With the recent results of Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks are living proof of this formula working. The 43-8 dominance over the Denver Broncos exhibited once again that no matter how high-powered of an offense your team has, the defense can take it out. The Saints fell victim to this reality twice, with once being in the regular season, and the other being in the divisional playoff game.
With all of the Saints’ player losses this off-season, it was difficult to picture that the defense would automatically bolster remnants of last year, specifically because of the loss of so much veteran leadership. After all, guys like linebacker Jonathan Vilma, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, and cornerback Jabari Greer have basically experienced everything. The addition of Byrd helps fill the gap of that veteran leadership, and coupled with someone like linebacker Curtis Lofton, the team should field another rock solid defense in 2014.
For Byrd, he joins key pieces in the Saints defense like Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, who are coming off career high seasons in sacks. Keenan Lewis showed quarterbacks how difficult it is to throw on him, as he shutdown some of the top receivers all season long. David Hawthorne drastically improved his play in 2013. Curtis Lofton led the team in tackles for 2012 and 2013, and as the ‘quarterback’ on defense, is a brilliant student of the game. Akiem Hicks continues to improve his game, as his size and stature is tough to defend against. Let’s not forget that the team will get a healthy Kenny Vaccaro and Victor Butler back.
The Saints defensive roster gets better each time I look over it.
Potential 2014 Saints Defensive Starting Lineup
DE – Cam Jordan
NT – Brodrick Bunkley
DE – Akiem Hicks
OLB – Victor Butler
ILB – David Hawthorne
ILB - Curtis Lofton
OLB - Junior Galette
CB – Keenan Lewis
CB – Corey White / Patrick Robinson
SS – Jairus Byrd
FS – Kenny Vaccaro
With this potential starting lineup, one can argue that the team is one player away from being ‘terrifying’, and I believe it’s in a cornerback. Just think about it. If the team can land someone who can really rival Keenan Lewis as a shutdown corner, then it spells success. Which quarterback would actually want to have to attempt to pass on that lethal secondary?
Whether this need for cornerback is addressed through the draft, or through Mickey Loomis shocking us all again, it will be something to look out for between free agency to training camp.
In summary, taking a page from the stronger defensive teams in the NFL, having Rob Ryan as the defensive coordinator, and being coupled with a possible change on offense to more of possession/game management could make the New Orleans Saints one of the top contenders in 2014.
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