The New Orleans Saints sent shock waves through the NFL at the beginning of the league’s new year with an insane blockbuster trade: Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and a 4th round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a 1st round pick.
The trade surfaced all kinds of questions about what’s going on inside the franchise: Is Mickey Loomis crazy? Is the Sean Payton–Drew Brees Super Bowl window closed in New Orleans? IS anyone on the roster safe? Why would the Saints want the Seahawks center instead of one of their high-profile defensive stars?
Well, now that everyone has had some time to calm down, Payton and Loomis’s plan is starting to become a little clearer. No, Loomis didn’t lose his mind. There is a method to his madness.
The Saints are trying to change their offensive style all together. For about nine years now, quarterback Drew Brees and a high-powered passing attack has been the Saints offense. The combination of head coach Sean Payton and Brees has been an absolute nightmare for secondaries, and it even brought a Super Bowl back to New Orleans after the 2009 season. Well, 2014 didn’t go so well. A 7-9 finish and an offense that routinely failed to get a first down made it clear that something needed to change if the Saints want to win another Super Bowl before Brees retires.
As a result, general manager Mickey Loomis stepped up and decided to allocate some of the offensive fire-power and receiving talent the Saints have to improving the run game and the defense. Thus, the Graham trade—the Saints lose one of their best receivers and one of the best tight ends in the game; but they bring in arguably the league’s best run-blocking center.
The Saints also moved wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins. The Saints drafted the easily-replaceable wideout in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and two years later the Saints get a 3rd round pick and some depth at the linebacker position in return from the Dolphins.
The Saints also made some big moves in the backfield, resigning former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram to a four-year deal, and bringing in former Buffalo Bills 9th overall pick C.J. Spiller. The former Clemson superstar broke onto the scene in 2012 with 1,244 yards and six touchdowns; however, nagging injuries have kept him from reaching those numbers the past two seasons.
Regardless of his past two seasons, Spiller is an immediate improvement to the Saints run-game. The Saints now have their most talented backfield since 2006 when Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush came together to bring the Saints from 3-13 in 2005 to 10-6 and an NFC Championship Game appearance. With Ingram taking McAllister’s between-the-tackles rushing role and Spiller mirroring Bush’s edge rushing and screen passing role, the Saints may finally find a nice offensive balance between rushing and passing.
The Saints tactics are not new—in fact, they are basically using the same blueprint the Dallas Cowboys did this past season. By keeping the ball out of Tony Romo’s hands as much as possible, the Cowboys propelled themselves to a 12-4 record in 2014.
Fortunately for the Saints, Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league; and a guy they know they can rely on at the end of games. However, Brees is 36 years old; so at the end of the day if the Saints can win without Brees have to throw the ball 40 times per game, they can keep their superstar around a lot longer.
Expect big things, just with a different look, from the New Orleans Saints in 2015.