NFC South: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram did just about everything he could last season to boost his value heading into free agency.

But I still think it’s possible that Ingram can remain in an affordable price range for the Saints to keep him (maybe less than $4 million per year) -- especially as the free-agent market continues to get flooded with veterans released around the league.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
AP Photo/David GoldmanMark Ingram showed in 2014 that he can handle a heavy workload.
Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson and DeAngelo Williams were the latest reported salary-cap casualties this week. And at some point, Adrian Peterson could also wind up joining a free-agent class that already includes DeMarco Murray, Frank Gore, Ryan Mathews, Justin Forsett, C.J. Spiller, Shane Vereen, Knowshon Moreno, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden and several other mid-level guys.

On top of that, many analysts including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. believe that this year’s draft class is deep with running backs in the middle rounds -- a cheaper route that more and more teams have started to take in recent years.

“There are a lot of guys out there [in free agency] that are proven entities, but they also have a lot of tread on the tires,” Kiper said. “I’d always go the rookie route. I would not take a running back in the first round, but I would from the second round on.”

Kiper then rattled off a list of names and projected rounds: Todd Gurley and Tevin Coleman in the second, Ameer Abdullah, David Johnson and Jeremy Langford in the third, Duke Johnson and Jay Ajayi in the fourth, T.J. Yeldon in the fifth and David Cobb, Terrell Watson and Bill Belton in the late rounds.

“So take your pick. You can find them,” Kiper said. “They’re there every year, and they’re gonna be there again this season.”

I still think Ingram should rank near the top among all those options -- especially when it comes to the Saints.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick is still just 25 years old. He just made his first Pro Bowl as an alternate, running for a career-high 964 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing three games with a broken hand. And he proved his value as a workhorse back with four 100-yard games in a six-week span.

Just as importantly, the Saints are high on Ingram’s character and work ethic, as coach Sean Payton stressed last week while expressing a desire to keep Ingram in New Orleans.

Intangibles like maturity, professionalism and leadership became an issue with the Saints last season, so it would be tough for them to part with a guy who has done things the right way since they drafted and developed him. Ingram was one of a few young Saints players whose arrow was actually pointing up last season.

If the Saints do lose out on a bidding war for Ingram, however, they do have more options than usual to fall back on. So either way, they should be able to build a healthy committee of running backs that could also include incumbents Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay stuck with a pass-rusher for the New Orleans Saints in his latest mock draft (requires Insider access). But he switched from Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. to Clemson’s Vic Beasley after both improved their stock during last week’s scouting combine.

McShay moved Fowler all the way up to No. 3.

As I wrote earlier this week, Beasley had one of the most dynamic workouts of any player at the combine. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker or defensive lineman (4.53 seconds), tied for the most bench-press reps of anyone at those positions (35) and had the third highest vertical leap (41 inches). Most importantly, Beasley did all that while weighing in at 246 pounds – up 26 pounds from last spring.

Fellow ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., however, said on a Thursday conference call that he doesn’t expect Beasley to make it out of the top 10 now after a “phenomenal” combine workout, combined with Beasley’s great college production (25 sacks over the past two years).

That’s not necessarily bad news for the Saints if they’re hoping a top pass rusher will fall to them with the 13th pick, though. If those guys rise, perhaps Nebraska’s Randy Gregory or Missouri’s Shane Ray will drop.

Or if all four of those pass rushers go high, maybe a top offensive lineman such as Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, a top defensive tackle such as Washington’s Danny Shelton or a top cornerback such as Michigan State’s Trae Waynes could fall. Kentucky pass rusher Bud Dupree and LSU cornerback Jalen Collins also improved their stocks with great combine performances and could crack the middle of the first round.

It’s still very early in the pre-draft process, but the more guys on the rise, the better for the Saints. reported Monday that the New Orleans Saints were "initially prepared" to release guard Jahri Evans, according to league sources, but they've recently reached out to Evans' camp in an attempt to keep him at a discounted rate.

Evans, 31, has two years left on his deal, but he's due a whopping $7.5 million in salary and bonuses this year.

[+] EnlargeJahri Evans
Duane Burleson/AP PhotoSix-time Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans is among a select group of Saints' veterans who are facing possible release or a drastic pay cut.
The report isn't a huge surprise, since it sounds like pretty typical negotiating tactics. And it's been widely noted that Evans' salary sticks out like a sore thumb for a team with significant salary-cap constraints. The Saints have to create some sort of leverage if they want him to agree to a pay cut -- which they likely will attempt, even though I've gotten no indication they've made any specific request yet.

However, the report is noteworthy if the Saints truly are considering the extreme option of releasing their six-time Pro Bowler and longtime centerpiece of their offensive line. As I've written before, I still think that would be a big surprise -- even though Evans has clearly started to regress in recent years.

Evans showed inconsistency in pass protection last season (three rough games against Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Atlanta marred his season). And he's battled a variety of nagging injuries over the past two years. But he has still played very well at times, especially as a run blocker.

More importantly, the Saints don't have any in-house candidates waiting to replace him, and they can't be guaranteed of finding an upgrade for cheaper in free agency.

If I'm in Evans' camp, I'd be tempted to "call the Saints' bluff" and refuse a pay cut for those reasons. I think Evans is less vulnerable than receiver Marques Colston, by comparison (I think Colston must accept a pay cut to stay in New Orleans). And in the worst-case scenario, Evans should still be able to command a good contract from another team if he winds up on the open market.

Then again, there's no way Evans would make $7.5 million from another team on the open market. So the mere threat of a release might be enough for him to agree to a discount.

Stay tuned. Whether or not Evans is part of the solution, the Saints will certainly have to release or work out pay cuts with a handful of veterans before the start of the new league year on March 10.

The Saints aren't in as much salary-cap trouble as it appears on the surface (they can shave more than $20 million off their cap with some simple bonus restructures). But some sacrifices will have to be made for them to shave another $5 to $10 million.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have several major roster decisions to make before the start of the new league year and free-agent signing period on March 10. For starters, they must trim somewhere between $20 and $30 million in salary-cap space (most of which will be accomplished by converting roster bonuses into signing bonuses).

Here’s the latest in a series of the most burning questions the Saints have to answer:

The question: Should the Saints extend Cameron Jordan's contract?

[+] EnlargeCameron Jordan
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsCameron Jordan is heading into the final year of his contract.
Jordan, 25, has one year left on his contract at a price tag and salary-cap cost of $6.969 million.

Sean Payton said last week that he doesn’t expect the Saints to work out a contract extension with quarterback Drew Brees, who has two years left on his deal. But perhaps it would make more sense to extend Jordan, since he’s heading into his final year.

By extending Jordan, the Saints could structure the deal so that it lowers his 2015 cap cost. They could also lock up one of their core young players long-term.

The answer: An extension makes a ton of sense. But the hard part will be determining Jordan's value. Jordan's camp might be willing to bet on a bounce-back season and a chance at a monster pay day in 2016.

For that reason, I’ll predict it doesn’t get done. But I think it should. Even if Jordan doesn’t come at a discounted rate right now, his price tag will only go up if he plays at his potential in 2015.

Two years ago, Jordan had 12.5 sacks, made his first Pro Bowl and became widely recognized as one of the top young defensive linemen in the NFL. Last year, however, Jordan dropped down to 7.5 sacks, and his production was far too inconsistent for a defense that badly regressed across the board.

However, the Saints are likely still high on Jordan’s potential. He’s always been excellent against the run, and he’s shown great versatility to play both inside and outside in various defensive schemes. The Saints like to reinvest in their homegrown talent, and Jordan has been one of their most successful draft picks, coming in the first round in 2011.

For comparison’s sake, some of the top defensive ends who signed multiyear deals last year in free agency fell in the $7 million to $8.5 million range (Michael Johnson, Michael Bennett, Everson Griffen and Lamarr Houston). The Saints signed pass-rusher Junior Galette to a four-year, $41.5 million extension, but that deal averaged out to $7.5 million over six years since he still had two years remaining on his previous deal.

That seems like the right neighborhood for Jordan though his asking price will likely be on the higher end, especially as the NFL’s salary cap continues to escalate.
Better leadership remains a big focus for the New Orleans Saints after a disappointing 7-9 season.

It was one of the first topics Saints coach Sean Payton brought up this week when asked what led to the Saints’ struggles in an interview with Pro Football Talk. Payton said the Saints could look to players both within and outside the organization to help improve it.

“I think we struggled with some leadership positions. I think, overall, there was a big change when all of a sudden guys like Will Smith, Jon Vilma, Jabari Greer, Malcolm Jenkins, Roman HarperDarren Sproles in one offseason leave. I think the price of that experience and leadership hurt us some," Payton said of former Saints veterans who were either released, traded or unsigned in free agency last year.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsSean Payton will address leadership and maturity issues with the Saints this offseason.
“I think there’s gonna have to be a few guys we look at in free agency," Payton added. "I also think we have a good, young nucleus of players, a good locker room, by and large. And yet you can never take that for granted.”

Concerns about things such as leadership, maturity and professionalism were addressed often by veteran players late last season.

No specific players were singled out as offenders. But some of the complaints were that guys didn’t always have the right energy on game days and that too many players were letting the little things slide, such as being late to meetings or flights.

Payton said this week that the blame lies with him and other leaders of the organization as well.

“I think it’s creating the environment for leadership to flourish,” Payton said. “Sometimes that can be stifled, if you will. I’ve gotta do a better job of creating that environment, certainly better than we did a year ago.”

Payton said leadership was one of the topics discussed by him and general manager Mickey Loomis just one night earlier while they were in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine.

“That one theme for us has always been finding the tough, smart football players, guys that love playing,” Payton said. “And I think we’ve got that by and large, and yet that leadership element is something, starting with myself and Mickey and all the way down through the club, that we’ve gotta do a better job with. …

“We just keep paying attention to what’s winning. And again, you look at New England, the success they’ve had, the consistency that they’ve done it with. There’s been a formula for them and it’s something we tried to emulate when we first got here in ’06.”

As for the other issues that stymied the Saints in 2014, Payton mentioned too many turnovers on offense, not enough turnovers on defense, being “awful” on third downs on defense and an inability to finish games down the stretch in the fourth quarter.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Well, we lost a number of close games.’ But there’s a reason why,” Payton said. “And that kept repeating itself.”
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson sent out a letter to season ticket holders Friday. Among other topics, he announced that there will be no increase in ticket prices for 2015 and he thanked fans for their “love and support” during his legal battle with his daughter and grandchildren.

“[Wife] Gayle and I are overwhelmed by the kindness and encouragement you have given us,” Benson said in the letter. “Please know that the future success, continuity and stability of the New Orleans Saints and our Pelicans will always be our first priority and I can assure you I have never been more eager to pursue another championship for you and our great fans across the Gulf South and the world.”

Loomis on scouting changes: Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told the Saints’ website that the team “hasn’t missed a beat” with the transition in the scouting department so far. The Saints hired Jeff Ireland as their college scouting director last month after losing player personnel director Ryan Pace to the Chicago Bears. They also fired former college scouting director Rick Reiprish and lost regional scout Josh Lucas to the Bears. Loomis said pro personnel director Terry Fontenot has taken on a greater role.

“Terry, I knew he was ready for more and he has stepped up, and I would say he’s exceeding expectations,” Loomis said. “And Jeff, who I’ve known for a long time but haven’t worked with before, he has stepped right in and we haven’t missed a beat. And I like the fact that he comes at it from a little different perspective with some different ideas, and I think it’s been real good.”

Miller moving on: Congrats to Doug Miller, the Saints’ longtime executive director of football communications. He left to become vice president of marketing, sponsorship and promotions of The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, where the Saints began holding their training camp last year.

Miller, who joined the Saints in 2007 after 16 years working for the New York Jets, said he accepted “a great promotion with the Saints’ blessing” and is very thankful to the organization. He called The Greenbrier an “iconic resort” and said he plans to “help tell the story of the history and future here.”
During the Mickey Loomis-Sean Payton regime, the New Orleans Saints have always broken their offseason wish list into categories of “wants,” “needs” and “musts.”

This year, Payton said, the Saints have two or three “musts.”

“I think one’s a corner. I think another position is an interior offensive lineman. And potentially a pass-rusher,” Payton told Pro Football Talk while at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. “And look, those are invaluable positions to every team every year. …

[+] EnlargeKeenan Lewis
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints could be in the market for a starting cornerback opposite Keenan Lewis.
“We have to check off the musts, be it through free agency or the draft.”

It’s hard to argue with Payton’s ranking. When I did my own breakdown of the Saints’ offseason needs last month, I had cornerback No. 1, outside linebacker No. 2 and guard/center No. 3.

Of that group, I think cornerback is the one that “must” be addressed in free agency -- both because the Saints need a proven starter they can rely on across from Keenan Lewis, and because the crop of available candidates appears much stronger in free agency than the draft.

Payton and former Saints player personnel director Ryan Pace both talked this week about the value of weighing the depth of certain positions in free agency vs. the draft. The Saints can’t count on finding a starting-caliber corner with the 13th pick in the draft. Only Michigan State’s Trae Waynes has been rated that high by most draft analysts so far. Other corners may work their way up in Round 1, but they come with question marks.

Meanwhile, the list of potential free-agent cornerbacks is loaded (albeit an expensive menu). At the top is Brandon Flowers, Byron Maxwell, Kareem Jackson, Antonio Cromartie, Tramon Williams and possibly Darrelle Revis. The next tier includes guys with experience and potential like Perrish Cox, Chris Culliver, Tarell Brown, Darius Butler and Buster Skrine. And there are some experienced veterans who could help bring leadership, such as Rashean Mathis, Ike Taylor, Charles Tillman, Terence Newman and Carlos Rogers.

As for the second “must” that Payton mentioned, the Saints clearly need to get younger throughout the interior offensive line, where all three starters from last year are in their 30s (guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and center Jonathan Goodwin). But I’m very curious to find out exactly how the Saints plan to address those positions.

Will they consider replacing either Evans or Grubbs because of their expensive contracts? Are they looking for a new starting center to replace free agent Goodwin and compete with young backup Tim Lelito? Or are they just looking for depth throughout the interior line -- especially in the draft -- with an eye toward replacing Evans and Grubbs in the future?
Sean Payton acknowledged that his decision to pair New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and newly-hired senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen is “not a normal situation.”

“But it works because both Rob and Dennis are guys that are passionate about it and really understand that this is something that benefits of them and the team,” Payton told the team’s web site Thursday while at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Payton said Ryan will continue to call plays on game days and serve as the defensive coordinator, while Allen "gives him another veteran set of eyes."

Payton decided to keep Ryan as his coordinator for a third season despite the Saints’ dreadful performance on defense in 2014 (31st in the NFL in yards allowed, down from 4th in Ryan’s first season in New Orleans).

But to shake things up, Payton brought back Allen, the former Saints secondary coach who spent most of the past three years as the Oakland Raiders' head coach and one year before that as the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator.

“He’s someone we’ve had a long history with,” Payton said, pointing out that Allen was part of his original staff in New Orleans in 2006 and the Super Bowl championship team in 2009.

This time Payton created a new position for Allen, with the “senior” title that actually places Allen above Ryan on the team’s published flow chart behind only Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt.

“We probably spent a week just going through the dynamics of the room,” Payton said. “Here’s Dennis, who’s got experience at this. And certainly that’s Rob’s role; he’s the defensive coordinator and he’ll be the guy calling our defense on game day. But I think Dennis gives him another veteran set of eyes that can help him and help our defensive staff and help our team.

“It’s about winning, and it’s about us finding opportunities to improve our team, our roster, our coaching staff, anywhere we can in the building.”
New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston talked a lot about the importance of offensive stability during a Wednesday night radio interview with ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski.

Colston said it’s been a key to the Saints’ success over the past decade. He also said part of it went away when the Saints traded Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles last year. And he said it’s what a lot of NFL teams, in general, are missing.

Jaworski, who hosts a weekly show on Philadelphia’s 97.5 The Fanatic, shared a story about how he noticed Colston adjusting a route on film last year and tried to figure out what Colston saw that made him do so. When he later asked Colston, Colston said it was because quarterback Drew Brees looked at him.

“It’s everything,” Colston said of the importance of playing with Brees throughout his career. “Everything. Because receiver is one of the positions in football where you’re totally dependent on everyone else. If the offensive line doesn't protect, the running back doesn't do his job in protection and actually running the ball to kind of keep the defense balanced, the quarterback’s not on point with the ball, you can't have success. So playing with a guy like Drew for my entire career has been a huge part of my success personally."

When asked if that’s more important than any of the physical traits that can be measured at events like such as this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Colston talked about the importance of that stability.

“To me, I look at the NFL right now and there’s just not a lot of stability in a lot of places,” Colston said. “So, what we’ve been able to do on offense, I think, is a product of stability. Sean Payton has been there nine years. Drew has been there nine years. We've got other pieces there six, seven, eight, nine years. The stability that comes with that allows for us to make the adjustments and kind of go out and put together unique game plans knowing that everyone’s on the same page. I think in a lot of these situations, the lack of stability, that’s when you see a lot of these mobile quarterbacks, their physical abilities and traits start to take over and kind of cover up some of those areas that aren't quite where they’re supposed to be yet."

Jaworski then asked about Sproles specifically, saying he believed that losing Sproles had a negative impact on the Saints’ offense. And Colston seemed to agree with his answer.

“That kind of speaks to the stability I was just talking about,” Colston said. “When you lose a guy that has produced at that high of a level and don't have an immediate replacement planned for him, you're gonna struggle at times. You know, those crucial situations when you know exactly the matchup that you're gonna get, the look you're gonna get and what you're gonna get out of that player. When you don't have that, and it's kind of an unknown, it just kind of makes game-planning a little more difficult."

Colston wasn’t asked about any contract issues – which is a hot topic right now because it seems highly likely that Colston will need to agree to a pay cut in the next couple weeks to remain in New Orleans.

Colston did reflect a lot on his combine memories. And he talked about his second career as an arena football league owner. Colston recently joined Jaworski’s ownership group with the Philadelphia Soul. The full interview can be found here.
METAIRIE, La. -- Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. has become a popular mock-draft choice for the New Orleans Saints with the 13th pick.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. paired the Saints with the Florida pass-rusher Wednesday in his latest mock Insider. Fellow ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay made the same choice last week.

As I've written before, the good and bad news for the Saints heading into this year's draft is that they won't be pigeonholed into any one position need since they could use an influx of young talent at so many different spots (cornerback, linebacker and both the offensive and defensive lines top the list). So it's certainly hard to argue with the idea of adding a 6-foot-2, 271-pounder like Fowler, who has been touted for his versatility.

Fowler, who had 8.5 sacks last season, played left end, right end, outside linebacker and defensive tackle at times in college. He's still a pass-rusher first and foremost, and he would need continued development in run defense and pass coverage. Kiper described him as someone who isn't dominant in any one area but who also doesn't have any clear weaknesses.

The Saints could use another edge rusher even if outside linebacker Junior Galette doesn't wind up getting suspended after a January arrest that is still pending in the legal system.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have several major roster decisions to make before the start of the new league year and free-agent signing period March 10. For starters, they must trim somewhere between $20 and $30 million in salary-cap space (most of which will be accomplished by converting roster bonuses into signing bonuses).

Over the next week or so, I’ll break down 10 of the most burning questions the Saints have to answer:

The question: Should the Saints keep Marques Colston?

[+] EnlargeMarques Colston
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsMarques Colston has the most career receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs in Saints history.
Colston, 31, is due $7 million in salary and bonuses (plus another $7.8 million in 2016). He’s the all-time leading receiver in franchise history with 666 catches, 9,239 yards and 68 touchdowns since 2006. And coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees continued to praise him and show trust in him in big moments last year. But Colston’s production has steadily dropped off over the past two seasons.

Colston’s 2014 totals of 59 catches, 902 yards and five touchdowns all set or matched career lows in a healthy season. He also struggled with dropped passes, lamenting that he felt like part of the problem at times instead of part of the solution.

The answer: This is a tough one because the Saints could theoretically move forward with a young core of receivers (Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, Jalen Saunders, Seantavius Jones and Brandon Coleman -- flanked by tight end Jimmy Graham, who is essentially the team’s No. 1 receiver). And they could add a veteran receiver much cheaper if they feel it’s necessary.

But as we saw last year with the Saints’ defense, it’s not so easy to replace veteran leaders, especially ones who have earned the level of respect in the locker room and the level of trust on the field that Colston has.

Plus, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder does still bring value to the Saints’ versatile offense because of the mismatch issues he creates with his size and catching radius. Unlike a lot of the veteran leaders the Saints released last year (Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Lance Moore), Colston’s role hasn’t diminished significantly yet. He led the Saints receivers in snaps played last year by more than 200.

My best guess is the Saints will find a way to work out a pay cut with Colston to keep him in New Orleans for a 10th season -- as long as it comes at a significantly reduced rate. They’ve done similar things in the past with cherished leaders such as Deuce McAllister, Vilma, Smith and Harper, among others.

I’m not sure if that magic number is $2 million or $4 million. Colston’s market value is clouded because things such as trust and respect enter the mix. But as the Saints proved last year, they won’t keep him based solely on sentimentality.
HARAHAN, La. -- New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton was eager for the team to keep defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. But Lofton said he’s also excited for the chance to work with newly added defensive assistant Dennis Allen.

"I think you use the analogy, ‘You can't have too many good players.’ And you use that for coaching,” Lofton said Thursday. “I think he's just going to make us better. And [head coach] Sean [Payton], he’s one of those coaches that’s going to go out there and get the best and do whatever it takes to help this team improve. And bringing Dennis Allen on is definitely gonna help us improve."

Lofton hasn’t worked with Allen before (Lofton arrived in New Orleans in 2012, while Allen left his job as the Saints' secondary coach in 2011 to become the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator and later the Oakland Raiders’ head coach).

[+] EnlargeCurtis Lofton
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsCurtis Lofton said to expect a change in attitude from the Saints' defenders after struggling in 2014.
But Lofton said he just saw Allen at the Saints' facility and said hello on Thursday morning. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about him," Lofton said, adding that he also has seen Ryan a couple of times at the facility this offseason. “He’s a very intelligent coach, and he’s very detailed, and that’s something we definitely need. I think all of our mindsets is to kind of re-evaluate this year and see what we can do better."

Lofton, who spoke to the media after visiting children at Hazel Park/Hilda Knoff Elementary School, said he has reached the point in the offseason where “you begin to start fidgeting” because it’s not normal to have days without meetings and practices.

“I can say I’m kind of enjoying it. But a few more weeks, I’ll probably start trying to get back in shape," he said.

“Going forward as a defense and as a team, we’ve just got to come together. There’s been a standard set, and this past year wasn’t that standard, and we know that. That’s disappointing, and we let ourselves down, our families down and of course our fans and our coaches. So I know that everybody I’ve talked to is anxious about getting back to work and improving and getting this thing corrected.”

Lofton, a captain and quarterback of the Saints’ defense, talked after the season about how he believes 2014 will “humble” players, whose maturity and professionalism were called into question.

“For us moving forward I think there will be a different attitude. And the standard wasn’t met, and it will be met going forward,” he said. “One thing about Sean, he doesn’t let things be messed up too long. Either you can do it or you can’t, and they’ll find someone else. That’s what Sean’s kind of promised. And we'll get this thing fixed.”

But Lofton said he doesn’t believe a personnel overhaul is necessary -- just a performance overhaul.

“If you look at, in '12, we had the history’s worst defense. And everyone was calling for, 'We need this player, we need to go out and get this guy, we need this, we need that.’ And you come back in '13 and have the fourth-ranked defense,” Lofton said. “So I don't know if there needs to be any [personnel] changes. I think what needs to be done is guys need to play better, coaches need to coach better, and we need to go out and execute. If we do that, then we'll like where we're at."

Also worth noting:

  • Lofton, 28, is due $7 million in salary and bonuses this year, including a $4.5 million roster bonus. He said he hasn’t been approached about any kind of restructuring. When asked if he’d be amenable to that, Lofton paused and said: “Depends.” Even if the Saints don’t pursue a pay cut, they could easily convert Lofton’s roster bonus to a signing bonus to provide more than $2 million in salary-cap relief.
  • Lofton was also asked about being spotted in some sort of sling or brace at a New Orleans Pelicans game. But he smiled and declined comment. Lofton wasn’t wearing any device Thursday. It’s possible he had some sort of minor procedure. It’s common for players to do so after the season -- and it’s just as common for the Saints to stay mum on the details.
METAIRIE, La. – The 2015 salaries of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham become fully guaranteed on Wednesday, which is the third day of the NFL’s waiver period. Those guarantees are automatically triggered since both are still on the roster.

Brees is due a salary of $18.75 million this year, as part of his five-year, $100 million deal which runs through 2016.

Graham is due a salary of $2.9 million, plus a $5 million roster bonus that also becomes fully guaranteed on Wednesday. Previously they were guaranteed for injury only.

The Saints still have the ability to restructure both contracts, if they so choose, as they look to trim more than $20 million in salary-cap space before the start of the league year on March 10.

For instance, Graham’s roster bonus will likely be converted into a signing bonus, which will spread the salary-cap hit over multiple years instead of just 2015. As I wrote last month, the Saints can make that same simple switch with a number of current player contracts – which alone will allow them to trim roughly $20 million in cap space.

That is one of the “mechanisms” that general manager Mickey Loomis referenced when he said he’s not too worried about the Saints’ salary-cap situation, even though it might look daunting on the surface.

As for Brees’ deal, there are no automatic mechanisms in place that will allow the Saints to reduce his massive cap figures of $26.4 million this year and $27.4 million next year.

However, as I also wrote last month, it would make sense for the two sides to consider a win-win contract extension that provides short-term cap relief and keeps Brees in New Orleans long-term.

When asked by the New Orleans Advocate’s Nick Underhill last week if he was willing to consider restructuring his contract this offseason, Brees said, “I’m not going to answer that.”
METAIRIE, La. -- Bill Parcells strongly considered becoming the New Orleans Saints' coach during Sean Payton’s suspension in 2012. And the Saints came closer to trading for quarterback Tony Romo in 2006 than people might have realized.

Those were two of the most interesting Saints-related tidbits in Parcells' latest authorized biography, "Parcells: A Football Life," which he co-authored with writer Nunyo Demasio.

Some of this stuff has been out there already, but I finally had a chance to dig into the book now that the offseason is upon us. And it’s even more relevant now that two of Parcells' protégés are working for the Saints -- Payton and scout Jeff Ireland.

[+] EnlargeParcells, Romo
AP Photo/Mike McCarnAccording Bill Parcells' latest book, he and Tony Romo could have been together as Saints in 2012 if a couple of decisions had gone differently.
Here are some of the highlights. Stay tuned for Part 2, to come:

On coaching Saints in 2012: Parcells strongly considered Payton’s plea to fill in for him as an interim coach during Payton’s bounty suspension. The Saints even agreed to let Parcells approach former assistants Eric Mangini and Al Groh about joining the staff so he could have had some of his own familiar guys with him.

According to the book, both Payton and Saints owner Tom Benson embraced the idea, but general manager Mickey Loomis seemed reluctant, perhaps sensitive to the effect on the incumbent coaching staff. The book also noted that some reports speculated Parcells would land an executive role after Payton’s return. Parcells and Loomis met for the first time that spring when Payton arranged for them to discuss the possibility over a round of golf.

"Who knows what Loomis really thought?" Parcells said. "I don’t have any idea. I don’t know Loomis; I only met him once. But guys like me threaten guys like him."

Still, Parcells weighed the pros and cons for more than two weeks and wrote that some people close to him, like Lawrence Taylor, urged him to take the job. Parcells liked that it was a temporary opportunity and that it offered a chance to enhance his legacy by possibly taking a fifth team to the playoffs (especially after his previous job with the Miami Dolphins ended poorly). He also wanted to help Payton, whom he considers like a son.

However, Parcells had qualms about working with a staff to which he had no direct ties, especially considering it was just part-time. "So if things don’t go well, people will say, 'This guy tried to change everything we were doing,'" Parcells said. 'And if it does go well, people will say, 'Well, (expletive), he has a built-in advantage.'"

Parcells, who was 69 at the time, also didn’t like the idea of pushing back his Hall of Fame eligibility five years, though he said he refused to base his decision solely on that.

Ultimately, according to the book, Parcells decided he liked his current lifestyle and was uncertain whether he possessed the energy required to do things in his maniacal way.

As for the bounty allegations that got Payton suspended in the first place, the book said Parcells expressed dismay that Payton allowed it to happen under his watch and said, "I didn’t teach him that stuff." But the book said Parcells also detected some hypocrisy with the way the NFL came down so strongly on the Saints in the name of player safety, even as they were pursuing an expanded 18-game schedule.

On a possible Romo trade: According to the book, the Saints offered the Dallas Cowboys a third-round pick for quarterback Romo when Payton first took over as New Orleans’ coach in 2006 -- when Romo was still a backup. But Parcells and Dallas owner Jerry Jones wanted a second-round pick, which the Saints deemed too costly.

Payton had pursued and developed Romo when Payton was the Cowboys’ passing-game coordinator under Parcells. Payton and Romo were both record-setting quarterbacks at Eastern Illinois. According to the book, Payton convinced Romo to accept a $15,000 bonus to sign with the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie in 2003, even though another Eastern Illinois product, Mike Shanahan, had offered $25,000 to try and lure Romo to Denver.

Payton almost took Raiders job: The book detailed how close Payton came to accepting the Oakland Raiders head coaching job in 2004, even buying a black suit and silver tie. But Parcells joined some of Payton’s close friends in the coaching ranks -- Jon Gruden, John Fox and Bill Callahan -- in advising against it.

"Put my name behind those three," Parcells recounted advising Payton, saying he wanted to talk to Payton "like a son" and not like a head coach talking to an assistant. "You’re going to get your chance. This just isn’t the right one, kid."
Jeff Ireland Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesJeff Ireland has been hired as the New Orleans Saints' lead college scout.
METAIRIE, La. -- As a general manager, Jeff Ireland was largely a bust with the Miami Dolphins, managing only one playoff berth in 2008 before five straight non-winning seasons from 2009-13.

But Ireland is getting back to his roots now that he's returning to the NFL as the New Orleans Saints' lead college scout.

That's the role Ireland had when he made his mark with the Dallas Cowboys, climbing the ranks from 2001-07 as Bill Parcells' protégé and inspiring Parcells to later hire Ireland in Miami.

And that's arguably the area where Ireland was most successful with the Dolphins -- though his drafts were more solid than spectacular and ended with perhaps the worst pick of his career in 2013, when he traded up for pass-rusher Dion Jordan.

Jordan, who has three career sacks, was the only first-round bust during Ireland's tenure in Miami, and the Dolphins did draft three eventual Pro Bowlers in Round 1 (offensive tackle Jake Long, cornerback Vontae Davis and center Mike Pouncey). Plus, Ireland has always had a knack for unearthing mid- to late-round gems. But the Dolphins never really hit any home runs and consistently whiffed on second-round picks.

The Saints are banking that a fresh start will do both sides some good.

New Orleans was looking to shake up its front office a bit even before losing top personnel executive Ryan Pace, who became the Chicago Bears' GM. And Ireland should benefit from getting back to what he does best on a full-time basis.

Most of Ireland's miscues in Miami came in other areas of the job: reported rifts with coaches Tony Sparano and Joe Philbin and an eventual rift with Parcells; high-profile public relations gaffes, including asking Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute in a pre-draft interview; and a spotty track record with free agency (overpaying for receiver Mike Wallace, missing out on Peyton Manning) and veteran trades (Davis and receiver Brandon Marshall thrived after being dealt away).

What Saints fans should care most about, though, is Ireland's track record as an evaluator of college players.

Ireland, a former kicker at Baylor, began his NFL career as a scout at the NFL combine from 1994-96, then with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1997-2000. The high point of his career came during the Dallas years, peaking with the Cowboys' sensational 2005 draft.

That year, Ireland helped convince Parcells to draft pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware with the 11th pick and wait for Parcells' favored defensive end, Marcus Spears, to fall to the Cowboys at No. 20. That memorable class also included linebacker Kevin Burnett, running back Marion Barber, defensive end Chris Canty and four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, a seventh-rounder.

Ireland's success rate in Miami is a bit harder to gauge, in part because Dolphins observers said it was hard to say for sure who had more influence over individual draft picks from 2008-10, when Parcells was Miami's lead executive. But Ireland ran the show after Parcells resigned, from 2011-13. Here are some of the highs and lows from a scouting standpoint during those Miami years.


  • Signing Cameron Wake from the CFL. Parcells reportedly convinced the pass-rusher to sign from the Canadian Football League in 2009, when other teams were also interested. But Ireland had scouted Wake, who has since been selected to four Pro Bowls.
  • A solid run of first-round picks. Long (2008), Davis (2009) and Pouncey (2011) all became Pro Bowlers, though Davis' first Pro Bowl came after he was traded to Indianapolis. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill (2012) hasn't been a superstar, but he has been solid; he threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2014. Defensive tackle Jared Odrick (2010) hasn't thrived, but he's still a starter five years later. Jordan (2013) was the first real bust of the bunch, though he still has time to turn things around.
  • Mid- to late-round gems. DE Olivier Vernon (Round 3) notched 11.5 sacks in his second season. From Round 4, WR Brian Hartline has two 1,000-yard seasons and RB Lamar Miller has one. Also among the best: LB Jelani Jenkins (Round 4); S Chris Clemons, S Reshad Jones (Round 5); TE Charles Clay (Round 6); S Jimmy Wilson (Round 7); WR Davone Bess and DE Derrick Shelby (undrafted).

  • Trading up for Jordan. Ireland was all-in on Jordan, saying he coveted the athletic pass-rusher for two years. And he traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 to get him. But Jordan has been hampered by injuries, suspensions and inconsistency. On the plus side, the price of the trade was relatively cheap, only costing the Dolphins a second-round pick to swap places with the Oakland Raiders.
  • Round 2 whiffs. The most infamous was drafting mobile quarterback Pat White in the second round in 2009, when the Dolphins were at the forefront of the NFL's "Wildcat" movement, though Parcells, Ireland and Sparano probably all deserve blame for that. Other second-round misses include DE Phillip Merling (2008), QB Chad Henne (2008), RB Daniel Thomas (2011) and OT Jonathan Martin (2012).
  • No franchise quarterbacks. Sure, landing one is easier said than done, but it's also the most important asset a GM can acquire for his team. Ireland never pulled it off, even missing out on the Manning sweepstakes in 2012. Long was a great pick at No. 1 overall in 2008, being voted to four Pro Bowls before leaving for St. Louis as a free agent, but Matt Ryan -- or even Joe Flacco -- would have been better for the franchise. Instead, the Dolphins went with Henne in Round 2 that year. Former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema recently claimed that he tried to convince Miami to draft Russell Wilson in 2012, but they didn't seem interested and targeted Tannehill instead. The Dolphins, of course, weren't the only team that whiffed on Wilson.