Sean Payton’s Offseason Plan Coming Into View

Jan 6, 2016; Metairie, LA, USA; Sean Payton talks to the media after announcing he will remain as the head coach for the New Orleans Saints during a press conference at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 6, 2016; Metairie, LA, USA; Sean Payton talks to the media after announcing he will remain as the head coach for the New Orleans Saints during a press conference at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

It looks as if the New Orleans Saints will focus on bringing in offensive and defensive line help in free agency, and may let some of their CB and RB needs fall to the draft.

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton recently spoke with Saints writer John DeShazier about the team’s offseason, their 2016 season, and the future of the team. And the way he talked about the draft may indicate how the team plans to address some of their roster holes.

On the subject of the relationship between the draft and free agency, Payton said:

"They have to work together in this way: If you have a must, and a “must” means you must fill this spot – let’s say it’s a certain position – do you feel like that’s available in the draft, and what kind of depth do you think exists at that position in the draft? If it’s not, then you pay a little bit closer attention to free agency at that position."

That means that, if a position is deep enough in the draft, it might fall to the side in free agency. And in this year’s draft, according to Payton and to anyone keeping track, CB is a seriously deep position.

Does that mean that the Saints won’t address the position in free agency? No. The Saints have reportedly expressed an interest in K’Waun Williams. And that interest will likely extend down the line of options.

What it means is that the Saints won’t view the position as a dire need to fill in free agency. If they don’t see a player at a price range that they like, they won’t make a desperate reach. That, in turn, will likely drive down the price of CB free agents, which may push some their way. But they won’t spend recklessly just to plug the hole when they believe they can reasonably fill it in the draft.

The opposite, unfortunately, is true for the offensive line.

With so few talented offensive lineman in this draft, the Saints will be more keen on snagging a starter or some quality depth in free agency. With so many questions along the right side of the line, the position is certainly a must. Zach Strief and Jahri Evans are both 33, and Evans might not even come back for another season.

And just as the draft will likely drive down the market for CBs, it will drive up the market for linemen. Agents know that teams will be more desperate to fill holes in free agency. And they’ll act accordingly. I expect the Saints to make a serious run at a starting OG and some swing tackle depth, and I expect them to pay big for it.

Payton also hinted at the Saints going for a pass-rusher early in the draft.

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This will come as no surprise to Saints fans. If a Saint mock draft doesn’t have Reuben Foster to the Saints with the first pick, it likely has either Solomon Thomas or Derek Barnett. And if it does go with Foster, there will almost definitely be a DE in the second or third rounds.

But Payton gave more fuel to the narrative by describing the draft as having “a handful of defensive ends.” And considering how emphatically he went on to say that a pressure player was a “must”, I think it’s pretty clear that, whether or not the team lands a premier EDGE talent in free agency, they will likely supplement the signing with a high draft pick.

Finally, don’t be surprised if the Saints go safety and RB later in the draft.

Among some of the team’s “wants” are an eventual replacement for safety Jairus Byrd and a satellite back. I’m starting to expect to see late-round picks at one or both positions.

The Saints drafted Vonn Bell in the second round last year, and Bell met with some media acclaim throughout his rookie season. But he struggled as much as he shined, and either way, the Saints like to feature three safety sets often in their defense. They’ll get backups Erik Harris and Jamarca Sanford back from injury this year, but they’re also likely to lose Roman Harper. Harris looks like he could eventually serve as a starter for the Saints, but Sanford is backup material and no more.

And at RB, the Saints have been without a viable satellite back for some time. They went with Travaris Cadet through 2016, and he put together some solid moments. But too often Cadet failed to take advantage of mismatches with LBs, and his lack of running ability doesn’t force the defense to stay honest. C.J. Spiller was never able to fill the role, and since Darren Sproles the Saints haven’t had a viable option at that important position in Payton’s offense.

Well, along with the depth at CB in the draft, Payton seemed excited about the number of safeties and RBs.

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Mind you, he didn’t go on to say the Saints would have any interest in those positions. If they think they can get Byrd to take a paycut next year or if they really like what they have in Harris (who is coming off an ACL injury), then there set for the future at the position. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go with a RB. Especially in the later rounds.