The Saints are poised to finish yet another season with a losing record. It’s possible that they climb to .500, but they’d need to win out. And either way, they’d likely miss the playoffs. But there are compelling reasons to believe the Saints will be a better team in 2017.
Granted, most teams likely feel the same. And yes, I felt similarly after the Saints abysmal 2015 season.
But regardless of the Saints’ final record, I think it’s pretty obvious that the Saints have improved since last season. Their record doesn’t speak to that improvement.
The Saints lost close games this year. Besides their games against the Falcons and arguably the Lions, New Orleans has been competitive every week. They may still have been utterly disappointing, but they’re no longer the butt of the average fan’s jokes.
So how can they improve going forward? What makes me believe that they’ll be better in 2017?
There are a number of holes on the roster. You could really point to all but a few positions and say that the team could use an upgrade or added depth. But something the Saints have this year that, for example, they didn’t last year, are dependable options at almost every position.
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Last year New Orleans had huge holes to fill at linebacker, defensive tackle, defensive end, and cornerback, as well as at tight end to some extent. They also needed players to fill in at RG and wide receiver.
This year, the Saints are comparably desperate for only two positions: DE and RG. Theoretically, two players could step in and make a huge difference for this team.
And unlike last year, Payton and Loomis will have plenty of cap space to throw around for quality signings.
Much of this is due to the lack of expiring contracts. There are a number of players that the Saints should lock up for 2017 and the future, but none of them should break the bank.
The most expensive resigning will surely be Nick Fairley, if the Saints elect to keep the breakout DT. And Willie Snead will no doubt command a pretty penny. I’m pretty sure that Fairley will be back next year, but I’m near certain that the Saints will resign Snead.
Beyond those two, the only players that I’m confident the Saints will resign are Will Lutz, Brandon Coleman, Tim Lelito, and Sterling Moore. None of those players will warrant any serious money.
The Saints will be working with a great deal more money next in the 2017 free agency market. And based on what appear to be improved FA moves, there’s reason to hope that Payton and Loomis bring in some serious talent.
Allen didn’t have a perfect year, by any means. The Saints had plenty of miscues on defense, and gave up their fair share of yardage. But it’s the first time since that outlier 2013 season that the defense has been anything resembling respectable.
Another year at the helm should help the unit come together. Craig Robertson may not be the starting MLB next year, but if he is then a year with the defense will have helped him dramatically. The secondary was a wash of injuries and street-signings, and a fresh offseason together can only help.
Finally, much of this team is young.
Yes, Brees is still ancient. And Zach Streif can only keep up this pace for so long. Jairus Byrd and Dannell Ellerbe aren’t getting any younger, and Jahri Evans will need to be replaced.
But beyond that handful of players, up and down the Saints roster has young, up and coming talent. At cornerback, and safety, wide receiver, defensive line, all along the backend of the depth chart are young, potential-laden players. Not every one of those guys will see dramatic improvement from 2016 to 2017. But a few of them will. And it’ll make a huge difference for the composition of this roster.
As with any year, an injury to a number of key players, Brees most obviously, would cripple this team. But beyond a Brees injury, could there have been more devastating losses this year?
Delvin Breaux broke his leg and missed half the season. Dannell Ellerbe missed even more of the year. And Cam Jordan played through a knee sprain that no doubt hindered his impact in the early weeks.
The Saints’ first-round pick missed half the year and a key part in his young development. The Saints secondary was absolutely decimated by injuries. Remember Keenan Lewis?
Terron Armstead has been a shell of his 2016 self, battling leg injuries since Week 1. And after seeing how dangerous this offense was with three competent TEs last year, the Saints were forced to work almost exclusively with Fleener after Hoomanuwanui and Josh Hill went down with leg injuries.
Armstead, Ellerbe, Breaux, and Jordan are the team’s most important players beyond Drew Brees. It’s hard to imagine a more devastating slew of injuries.
If New Orleans can at all escape the same backbreaking absences, they’ll be poised for an improved 2017 campaign.
Of course, none of that will matter if Brees goes down or regresses at all. But there’s no reason to believe he will after an excellent 2016 season.