This is the third in a series of four articles in which I will analyze the the top 5 game changing moves that each NFC South team has made to date and how it will affect their chances at a Super Bowl run repeat.
While this article is a little unnecessary due to the fact that we all know the Saints will repeat, let me humor you with what I believe are the five most important moves of the Saints’ offseason.
So without further ado, the New Orleans Saints are on the clock:
1. The release of Charles Grant — After the 2006 season in which he recorded six sacks and three forced fumbles, Charles Grant signed a 7 year $63 million contract extension.
Over the past three years, Charles Grant has accumulated only 11 sacks. During these three years, he has also accounted for approximately $12, 300, 300 in cap room.
If you break that down, Grant is charging the Saints $1.118M per sack.
If the Saints want to extend their core players, such as Pierre Thomas, Roman Harper, Lance Moore, or as they did with Jahri Evans, they needed to remove some other players to cut costs.
The Saints were able to do so this offseason because of the lack of a salary cap. Because of this, the bonuses that the Saints had to pay Charles Grant in order to release him did not count against the cap that would have existed with a CBA.
The Saints cut some fat in more than one way when they released Charles Grant.
With Grant gone the Saints were able to pick up Alex Brown almost immediately after his release from the Chicago Bears. Brown is a better pass rusher, run defender and player than his predecessor Charles Grant.
Once again the Saints have improved a roster spot with addition by subtraction.
2.The loss of Scott Fujita — Fujita was a solid starter for the Saints during their Superbowl run.
Remember that it was he who jumped on that muffed handoff in the NFC Championship, taking away what would have been at least three points for the Minnesota Vikings.
The Saints run defense was also solid until the Miami Dolphins game, in which Fujita was absent. In that contest, the Saints gave up 137 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns.
Perhaps even more important was Fujita’s veteran leadership. He was a great locker-room guy for the team and had great character. If you watched the Saints Superbowl DVD from NFL Films, Fujita was constantly talking to his team about keys to victory and getting them lined up correctly.
He was also the first free agent to sign with the Saints after the arrival of Sean Payton. This proves that he had a desire to take part in the rebuilding process of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Now with the Cleveland Browns, Fujita opted to join on there in order to earn a more lucrative 3 year $14 million contract.
Good luck to you, Scott. Your leadership will be missed.
Regardless his absence will allow young unproven players a chance to step up alsoforcing the Saints to pickup some veteran help by signing linebacker Clint Ingram, formerly of the Jaguars.
Ingram along with Jolonn Dunbar, Troy Evans, Stanley Arnoux and rookie Sam Maxwell will all compete for the starting role, the Saints linebacker core will perform better in 2010 without question.
3. The resigning of Darren Sharper — The active career leader in interceptions has resigned with the New Orleans Saints.
Sharper, who was expected to be franchise tagged after last season, was rumored to be interested in playing for the New York Jets or Jacksonville Jaguars because the Saints refused to offer him a high-end contract and “show him the love”.
However no team was interested in signing Sharper to a lucrative contract because of his offseason arthroscopic knee surgery and the fact that he is getting up there in age.
I do believe, however, that Sharper has a few good seasons left in him. He is in a position to succeed in the Saints’ blitz-heavy system under Gregg Williams, who allows him to lurk and make plays on the ball.
He will also be able to train Malcolm Jenkins, who has been switched from corner to free safety after being drafted by the team 14th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, to become his eventual successor.
Jenkins is the future at free safety and may develop into a pro bowl caliber player under Sharper’s tutelage but at least for now it is Sharper who will be snagging interceptions in 2010.
4. Drafting Patrick Robinson — Last season, the Saints endured many injuries in their secondary that ultimately prevented them from going undefeated.
Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, Randall Gay, and Leigh Torrence all missed significant time last season: Greer missed 7 1/2 straight games; Porter missed 4 1/2 games; Gay missed 3 games; and Torrence was placed on the IR after Week 11.
The Saints had to go to the street and sign Chris McAlister and Mike McKenzie as their starting corners for several games.
Even if Porter and Greer stay healthy the entire season, the Saints need a solid nickel corner, as Randall Gay was repeatedly victimized down the stretch.
Furthermore, the nickel corner on any NFL squad will likely spend more time on the field than the strong-side linebacker because teams are deviating towards a pass-happy offense.
With the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Philip Rivers in the NFL, teams now need 3 starting caliber corners in order stop these potent offenses.
When teamed up with the tandem of Greer and Porter, Patrick Robinson adds even more speed and playmaking ability to the Saints secondary which will allow Gregg Williams to “blitz his brains out” knowing all the receivers are covered down field.
Just look at the kid’s athleticism in the photo above.
5. Trading Jammal Brown — Jammal Brown, a two-time Pro-Bowler for the Saints, suffered a sports hernia and a hip injury that sidelined him for the entire 2009 season and Super Bowl run.
Jermon Bushrod played in his place last season, and filled in admirably.
While he did suffer lowlights against the Dolphins and Cowboys, he played quite well against the likes of Trent Cole, Jared Allen, and Julius Peppers.
When the Saints drafted Charles Brown in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, it essentially sealed Jammal’s fate.
With five OT’s on the roster after draft-day, the Saints had an excess of players in a position that is important to every NFL team.
The Saints began talks with the Washington Redskins and eventually shipped him to them for a third or fourth round draft pick, depending upon the performance of Donovan McNabb.
The Saints are now relying on Bushrod and Charles Brown to step up and protect the most important player on the team — King Drew.
With the Saints facing pass-rushers such as Demarcus Ware, James Harrison, Terrell Suggs, Joey Porter, and Jared Allen, the starter at LT in 2010 will be closely scrutinized, but as Bushrod proved last year he is more than capable of handling the elite pass rushers.
I believe that with the moves the New Orleans Saints made this offseason, they have become even better than last year’s Superbowl team. They are clearly the frontrunners to win the south this season with an explosive offense and an ever improving aggressive defense.
WHO DAT?!?! TWO DAT!!!