Are the Saints BETTER or WORSE Off Than They Were 2 Weeks Ago?


Almost two whole weeks have now come and gone since the New Orleans Saints and the rest of the NFL’s 32 teams began signing available players in the League’s 2019 Free Agency period, and one thing has become very clear:

A large portion of Saints fans believe that the Black and Gold have taken a step backward and have actually become worse as a team overall than where they were before getting eliminated in the NFC Championship game by the L.A. Rams at the end of last season.

However, are they really worse, or are some fans simply overreacting at this point?

This morning we’re taking a brief look at each key “addition” or “subtraction” the Saints have made since they began making moves two weeks ago (including yesterday evening’s very popular signing of former Oakland Raiders tight end Jared Cook). After evaluating each player, we’ll give our take if we feel that it’s made the team either better or worse — the very same Saints team that came so agonizingly close to winning a Super Bowl and is expected to be a top contender once again to win it next season.

So we’ll begin our evaluation first with…






PLAYER: Mark Ingram, Running Back

STATUS: SUBTRACTION

Signed a three year, $15 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens ($500,000 guaranteed)

WHAT HE PREVIOUSLY BROUGHT TO THE SAINTS:

Ingram was the Saints’ second all-time leading rusher (6,007 yards) and career leader in rushing TDs (50). He was also one-half of one of the NFL’s best RB tandems (with fellow RB Alvin Kamara) and one of the most popular and beloved players by fans in the team’s soon-to-be 53-year history.

EVALUATION:

There’s honestly no way that anyone can honestly look at this subtraction from the team’s overall roster and think to themselves that somehow Ingram’s departure makes the Saints any better. Not only did New Orleans lose one of the team’s very best performers in their annually top-ranked offense and his on-field production, but they also lost an essential and irreplaceable team leader whose passion, desire, and notable energy and effort made him an invaluable part of the local culture and community. This one will hurt for a while to come, unfortunately,

PROJECTION: WORSE

PLAYER: Latavius Murray, Running Back

STATUS: ADDITION (Previously with the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings)

Signed a 4-year, $14.4 million deal with the Saints ($7.2 million guaranteed)

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE SAINTS:

Murray, a “late bloomer” in college at the University of Central Florida, is a six-year veteran NFL RB who is capable of serving as an effective and larger-than-normal (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) “power” RB in a two-pronged approach to the running game similar to the one the Saints have utilized in recent seasons with Ingram and Kamara. He also has tallied nearly 3700 rushing yards (4.1 yards per carry), and 34 TDs throughout the length of his NFL career.

EVALUATION:

It’s obvious the Saints did their homework and prepared in advance for the possibility of losing Ingram. However, it’s also safe to say that they likely never expected Ingram to walk for a measly half-a-million dollars ($500,000). That was more about Ingram’s agent trying to get too “cute” by making everyone believe the Ravens were offering more (to drive up Ingram’s asking price) but miscalculated and eventually were forced to accept a raise far below what they were seeking.

In any event, while Murray could end up matching or coming close to Ingram’s production numbers-wise on the field of play, there’s no way he’ll ever be able to adequately replace the enthusiasm that Ingram brought to the locker room and his former teammates. Murray will allow the Saints to stick to their approach to running the ball, but his impact with the Black and Gold won’t be nearly as significant as Ingram’s loss will ultimately end up having on them.

PROJECTION: WORSE

PLAYER: Malcom Brown, Nose Tackle

STATUS: ADDITION (Previously with the New England Patriots)

Signed a 3-year, $15 million deal with the Saints

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE SAINTS:

At only age 25, Brown is a former consensus All-American at the nose guard/1-Technique defensive tackle position from the University of Texas, as well as a 1st Round draft pick and two-time Super Bowl champion previously with the current and defending champion New England Patriots. He is considered one of the premier performers at his position in the entire League.

EVALUATION:

Brown will replace fourth-year veteran nose tackle Tyeler Davison at this position since the Saints aren’t expected to retain Davison’s services or offer him a new contract, thus allowing the team’s 5th Round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft free to seek employment elsewhere.

However, unlike most of the other new players from different teams that the Saints have brought in so far this off-season, Brown is considered to be an “elite”-caliber nose tackle (which is why it seemed a bit surprising the Patriots didn’t make a stronger effort to re-sign him). This signing was the Black and Gold’s best move in this year’s Free Agency period, by far.

PROJECTION: BETTER

PLAYER: Alex Okafor, Defensive End

STATUS: SUBTRACTION

Signed a three year, $18 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs ($8.8 million guaranteed)

WHAT HE PREVIOUSLY BROUGHT TO THE SAINTS:

A 6th-year NFL veteran role player with 22 career sacks, Okafor was the starter at the right defensive end/EDGE pass-rushing position in 2017 before a torn Achilles cut his season short and landed him on injured reserve. He split duties at the position last season with rookie (and the team’s top 2018 draft pick) Marcus Davenport

EVALUATION:

The Saints still need more depth at the position now that Okafor is leaving, though they were smart and demonstrated frugality by not overpaying for him.

Okafor’s $8.8 million guaranteed from Kansas City was a lot more money than any other NFL team was willing to offer the talented but often-injured 28-year old pass-rushing specialist. Expect his limited production to be replaced when the Saints sign another experienced veteran at the position or by targeting one in next month’s 2019 NFL Draft Class.

PROJECTION: BETTER

PLAYER: Mario Edwards Jr., 3-Technique Defensive Tackle

STATUS: ADDITION (Previously with the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants)

Signed a 2-year, $5 million deal with the Saints

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE SAINTS:

A versatile 4-year veteran who can play any position on the defensive line, former All-ACC performer at Florida State and a 1st Round pick by the Raiders in the 2015 NFL Draft and has tallied 7.5 career sacks. Not a great player by any means; but yet he is solid, reliable, and should help the Saints “get by” at the 3-Technique/interior pass rush spot during the expected absence of starting DT Sheldon Rankins.

EVALUATION:

Edwards can play both inside at either defensive tackle position as well as rush the passer on the outside edge at defensive end, but for the majority of his career up to this point has mostly played within the interior as he did last for the Giants last year.

The Saints will expect him to help fill the void during the anticipated absences of Rankins and backup DT David Onyemata. Rankins is likely to be out on until October as he recovers from surgery repairing the torn Achilles tendon injury that he suffered during the playoffs, and Onyemata faces a possible suspension from the League after a January arrest for possession of marijuana.

PROJECTION: BETTER

PLAYER: Max Unger, Center

STATUS: SUBTRACTION

Official Retirement at age 33 (formally announced on March 15th)

WHAT HE PREVIOUSLY BROUGHT TO THE SAINTS:

The ten-year NFL veteran was the anchor of the Saints O-Line after they acquired him during the 2015 NFL Free Agency period in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks for then-Saints starting #1 TE Jimmy Graham. Unger was one of the sport of pro football’s best players at his position for the past several seasons but was experiencing a rapid physical decline which ultimately forced him to quit playing.

EVALUATION:

There’s an old saying that you can “put lipstick on a pig” to make it look better or more attractive, but in the end: it’s still going to be nothing but a pig. Translation: there’s just no sugar-coating it, losing Unger will hurt the Saints just as much (if not more) than losing Mark Ingram will. That’s mainly because it’s crucial for Brees to be comfortable under center to successfully operate the offense proficiently; and the loss of Unger will be something they’ll all have to overcome and compensate for, in due time.

PROJECTION: WORSE






PLAYER: Nick Easton, Center/Offensive Guard

STATUS: ADDITION (Previously with the Minnesota Vikings)

Signed a 4-year, $24 million deal with the Saints

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE SAINTS:

Easton is a fourth-year O-Lineman who went undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft from Harvard University. He can play both left guard and at center but missed all of last season on injured reserve; although in over 700 career snaps during that time, he’s yet to surrender a single sack in pass protection.

EVALUATION:

Although the Saints could have decided to promote 3rd year undrafted veteran center/guard Cameron Tom to take over the position permanently since they’ve reportedly been “grooming” him to do so, they apparently didn’t feel comfortable entrusting the starter’s role to Tom (or rookie Will Clapp, who can also play those spots and any O-Line position).

Signing Easton gives them veteran “insurance” at the position as well as added depth obviously. However, there remains a great deal of trepidation and concern that Easton’s overall lack of experience and the propensity he’s shown thus far in his career for being somewhat injury-prone doesn’t exactly scream out a reason to be optimistic about the situation. The Saints more than likely will have all three players — Easton, Tom, and Clapp — battle it out in Training Camp later on this Summer and the let the chips fall where they may; to see who emerges (if at all) as the clear-cut winner to be the team’s starter for Brees under center in 2019.

PROJECTION: NO CHANGE

PLAYER: Jared Cook, Tight End

STATUS: ADDITION (Previously played with Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, and Oakland Raiders)

Contract details unknown at this point (rumored to be around $8 million per season)

WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE SAINTS:

The #1-rated tight end on the 2019 NFL Free Agent market, Cook is a big-bodied former All-Pro who is still one of the league’s best receiving TE’s even at age 31; last season put up 896 yards and 6 TD’s and in 10 NFL seasons has 425 receptions for 5.464 yards and 25 TD’s.

EVALUATION:

Even in his early 30’s (he turns 32 next month ), Cook remains as one of the more athletic tight ends in the League. The 6-foot-5. 255 pound Cook still possesses adequate speed which allows him to beat linebackers, and his NBA “power forward”-like size makes him too big to defend one-on-one against most safeties.

Make no mistake about it: Cook probably won’t be confused with Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, or any of the other of the NFL’s young “elite”-caliber TEs. However, he’s still more than a reliable weapon for a QB in the passing game (imagine him now finally getting a chance to play with a QB as good as Drew Brees is), and he’s a solid if not spectacular blocker in the running game.

Bottom line: Cook has put some “mileage” on the old speedometer and maybe now has some “missing tread” from his tires physically after 10 NFL seasons, but he’s nevertheless managed to avoid any major injuries and still appears to have a few good years worth years of playing time. Along with the addition of nose tackle Malcom Brown, this was a “slam dunk” signing for the Saints.

PROJECTION: BETTER

OVERALL PROJECTION:

Credit: Chris Taylor, JRNOLA

Now two weeks into the heart of the 2019 NFL Off-Season process, you could make a sound argument that the current roster of the New Orleans Saints is about as good as it previously was a month and a half ago following the gut-wrenching finish to the NFC Championship game against the Rams.

It’s true that you don’t just lose one of the top performers from your offense along with the starting center and keep on moving along and pretend as if didn’t happen. While perhaps no other team in the entire NFL is better prepared to handle such matters of difficulty and continue to remain successful like New Orleans can (and has), it’s not exactly a desirable position that the Saints organization ever wants to find themselves in.

However, the Black and Gold, especially within the last couple of seasons in particular, have re-claimed their previous spot as one of the best teams not only just in the NFC but the entire sport of Pro Football. Unless they were to experience some loss or adversity on a catastrophic level, there’s no reason to suspect that New Orleans (with or without Ingram and Unger in the fold) won’t still be one of the favorites again this upcoming season to win the Super Bowl. Any additional players that they might add either in the remaining weeks of Free Agency or in next month’s NFL Draft, should even further strengthen that bid.

Yesterday’s reported late-evening signing of Cook now gives the Saints yet another weapon for their offense. As long as they can compensate for the early-season absence of Rankins on defense, there’s no reason to suspect that New Orleans won’t be one of the leading favorites — if not THE favorite — to finally win that elusive 2nd Super Bowl title which has so very painfully escaped their grasp for the last few years.

CURRENT PROJECTION FOR THE 2019 SEASON: SUPER BOWL FAVORITES







Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.

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3 thoughts on “Are the Saints BETTER or WORSE Off Than They Were 2 Weeks Ago?

  1. I’m confused why you say the loss of Okafor makes us Better, when we still don’t have a replacement for him? Aren’t you kind of assuming a lot when you say we’ll be better because you hope they’ll find a better player to replace him? Okafor wasn’t spectacular, but he was a solid contributor, and until someone better actually takes the field, I don’t see how losing Okafor makes us better. It is possible that we upgrade the position, but until it happens, we are worse off without Okafor in the rotation.

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